When L.A.'s marijuana dispensaries launched a campaign recently to repeal the city's "gentle ban" on pot shops, they hired the best political consultant they could find: Rick Taylor.
Taylor, who has also been a lobbyist for dispensaries, took the lead in managing the referendum effort, which has already succeeded in suspending enforcement of the ban. But if the measure makes it to the ballot, the dispensaries will need to hire somebody else.
That's because Taylor recently went to work for the marijuana community's sworn enemy: City Attorney Carmen Trutanich.
Trutanich has been fighting to crack down on marijuana dispensaries since he was sworn into office three years ago. Even before the ban was enacted, he argued that sale of marijuana were illegal and dangerous to public health. Though enforcement of the ban is on hold, Trutanich warned today that pot shops are still an "unpermitted land use."
Taylor has argued, by contrast, that the city should establish regulations to allow 182 collectives to be grandfathered in. In an interview, he said he still believes that, though he is now running Trutanich's re-election campaign.
"What the council passed was not good law," Taylor said, adding that he does not speak for Trutanich on the issue. "We need to protect patients and we need to protect neighborhoods."
Taylor said he would not be lobbying Trutanich on the dispensaries' behalf. Several marijuana activists said that Taylor disclosed he would be working for Trutanich, and said that he could not continue to run the referendum effort. Yami Bolanos, a representative of the referendum effort, said that Taylor's work for the group will officially end on Sept. 30.
"It is disheartening for folks who are thinking he is on their side and supporting their cause when in fact he's making sure our worst enemy is being re-elected as city attorney," said Kris Hermes, a spokesman for Americans for Safe Access.
Trutanich's spokesman, John Schwada, said that Trutanich had no problem with Taylor's affiliation with the marijuana community.
"Rick understands the dual roles that he plays," Schwada says. "I've never seen him lobby anyone on this issue, much less the city attorney."
Taylor said the situation does not pose a conflict of interest.
"It's more of a conflict for people in the media," he said.
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Update: Trutanich issues a statement:
"I don't apply an ideological litmus test when I hire professionals to work for me," Trutanich said. "Their talents are what I'm looking for, not their beliefs about controversial issues of the day." Trutanich added that Taylor told him beforehand about his clients, including the dispensary owner. "I went into this arrangement with Rick with my eyes wide open," Trutanich said. "Rick laid all his cards on the table. I know who his clients are and we have an explicit understanding that as long as he's my consultant he's not going to lobby me or my office regarding his clients - and he has been true to his word."
Trutanich also said he wanted to clear the air about his views on medical marijuana. "There's been some misunderstanding about where I am coming from on this issue. I do not have any personal angst about medical marijuana. I and my staff, as professionals, are obligated to give our client, the city of Los Angeles, our best legal advice, based on the law, not our personal opinions, and we have done that in a very tricky and confused legal landscape."
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