Organizers of a referendum that aims to overturn L.A.'s ban on marijuana dispensaries planned to turn in their signatures today, an official with Americans for Safe Access confirmed to the Weekly.
Opponents of the ban, which would shutter the city's more than 1,000 pot shops, said in a statement last night that they have 50,000 signatures in hand, even though they only need 27,425.
Still, that might not be enough …
… to turn things around by Sept. 6, when L.A.'s cannabis store prohibition takes effect.
After the signatures are verified, the city will have 30 days to take action: It will be required either to overturn its own ban at the behest of organizers, or put the issue before voters. If the city chooses the latter option, regardless of how the vote turns out, there would be at least some gap in which pot shops would technically have to close their doors.
The city council has already voted to seek the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's help in shutting them down, so officials at least sound serious about this on paper.
The city also faces a lawsuit over claims the city is violating L.A. medical patients' rights.
Gary Carver, a referendum proponent who suffers from glaucoma, said this in a statement distributed by the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, which is pro-dispensary (ostensibly because of the jobs involved):
We are certain the people of Los Angeles support patients like me to have safe access to our medicine. We understand and appreciate the need for strict rules and regulations regarding dispensaries. But the outright ban went too far, and will result in many sick and infirm patients suffering needlessly. What we need is a thoughtful policy that allows us to get our medicine and protects communities, not a short-sighted ban that causes us pain and thwarts the will of the people.
Don't hold your breath.
[Correction at 2:54 p.m.]: After talking to one of the referendum's organizers, we got the wrong impression (as did other outlets before today) that the ban would still take effect Sept. 6 while the council would have 30 days to make a move.
Not so, says City Attorney's spokesman Frank Mateljan. Sufficient signatures turned in with the right paperwork will suspend the ban:
The act of a single filing of a sufficient number of referendum signatures with the City Clerk (on the appropriate form and prior to the filing deadline of September 5, 2012) will suspend the new medical marijuana ordinance from taking effect. The City Clerk will 'conditionally' accept the signatures pending certification. Thereafter, the Clerk will work to verify or reject signatures, which will result in a final certification of signatures as either sufficient or insufficient. Certification of the signatures as insufficient will release the suspension of the ordinance. However, certification of the signatures as sufficient will further suspend the ordinance until action by the Council and/or the voters (City Charter Sections 460-464 and City Election Code Sections 700-704 and 712-717.)
[Added at 5:22 p.m.]: A City Clerk's official told us, just before closing time at 5 p.m., that the signatures never came in today. Maybe, given the revelation above, organizers are taking their time. They have until the 6th.
[Update at 11:04 p.m.]: Organizers said they'll turn the signatures in at 9 a.m. after taking more time to double check them.
Meanwhile, Councilman Jose Huizar, a onetime pot-shop supporter who co-authored the ban, says dispensaries won't be safe from enforcement even if the signatures are turned in.
According to City News Service he said the petition will trigger a city “sunset cluase … which which outlaws storefront dispensaries and only allows, per state law, for a qualified patient or their caregiver to grow their own or collectives consisting of three or fewer qualified patients ortheir caregivers.''
(Note here that in some parts of the San Fernando Valley police have already begun wholesale closures of dispensaries simply for selling weed).
State law is clear — selling medical marijuana for profit is illegal. [The referendum] does not change that and doesn't protect dispensary owners from prosecution if they engage in illegal activity.
And the plot thickens.