Final approval hasn't even been given to the city of Los Angeles' sweeping medical marijuana dispensary law and already pot-shop advocates say court-challenges are very likely.
The council on Tuesday approved an ordinance that would eventually close 475 of the 545 dispensaries operating in the city. At first it would allow 137 pot shops opened before a city moratorium went into effect in 2007 to remain open, but the ordinance would see that number whittled down to 70 through non-compliance and business-related closures.
“Yes, we will challenge,” said Brian Berens, founder of the Los Angeles Collective Association and owner of the Del Rey collective Green Oasis, which won an injunction against the city's 2007 moratorium that allowed it and other dispensaries to continue operating.
Berens questions whether or not the city can build an ordinance on a pre-moratorium count of dispensaries in Los Angeles if that moratorium has been struck down. (But, he adds, that he's not sure yet what exact legal grounds might be cause for a court challenge).
“Essentially the moratorium never legally existed,” he told the Weekly, “so to base an ordinance on something that didn't exist, they're going to have problems with that. We could sue on those grounds, and we would win, I've been told by my attorney.”
Berens even went so far as to suggest the city drafted a flawed ordinance so it would be struck down by the courts on purpose and Los Angeles would be left with the medical marijuana scene it has today.
Some council members, including Bill Rosendahl, lamented that a stricter version of the ordinance would have killed off or severely limited the number of dispensaries in their districts. And many have had closed door meetings with medical-marijuana advocate Don Duncan, a West Hollywood dispensary owner himself. Strangely, Duncan called Tuesday's vote “a bittersweet victory.”
Berens says his attorney “thinks the city government is” basing an ordinance on a flawed moratorium “so they will lose the lawsuit.”
Meanwhile, Bruce Margolin, director of the Los Angeles chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and an attorney who represents some dispensaries in criminal cases, says he'll probably end up in court to test the ordinance if any of his clients are shut down under the new law.
“I'm going to challenge” the ordinance “as being unconstitutional” under state law, he said. “This law is going to force us back into the black market where we were before.”