Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Dispensaries quietly close as L.A. ordinance takes effect

Officials with the Los Angeles city attorney's office Monday said they
believe there will be "substantial compliance" with an ordinance that
shuts down more than 400 medical marijuana dispensaries that opened over
the last two and a half years.

But Assistant City Atty. Asha Greenberg said her office wouldn't rule
out taking "enforcement action" against possible holdouts.

"I don't think anyone should assume they can remain open and that the
city is not going to take any action any time soon," Greenberg said.
"It's a definite possibility. Anyone who is not living in a cave" knows
that the ordinance went into effect Monday.

Reports from police officers, building inspectors and residents will
help identify possible violators. City prosecutors also set up an e-mail
address for the public to report scofflaws:

Offenders face civil penalties of $2,500 a day and six months in jail.
Dispensaries that registered with the city in 2007 will have until
Monday to file paperwork showing their intent to comply with new
location restrictions.

Signs posted on the doors of the City Clerk's office Monday indicated
that staff members were prepared for an onslaught of medical marijuana
operators filing notices of intent to register on the first available

But things seemed to run smoothly with only a handful of people in line
by mid-morning. By noon, about 50 people had been through the office to
submit paperwork on their intent to register, a process that took about
20 minutes.

"I thought it was going to be a little crazy," James Catipay, 33, said
as he exited the office with his business partner, Peter Tejera. The two
operate Herbalcure in Los Angeles and although they have a week to file
the paperwork, they wanted to do it as soon as possible.

"It demonstrates responsibility," said Tejera, 41, a real estate

Catipay and Tejera said they opened Herbalcure in 2007 because they
wanted others to benefit from the remedy they had used to relieve their
own pain left by illnesses.

Tejera said he found that cannabis relieved the pounding headaches that
came after an aneurysm. Catipay, an attorney, said he used marijuana to
address the breathing problems left by sarcoidosis.

Both believe the city's regulation of marijuana collectives is a wise

"There need to be guidelines," Tejera said. "The city has to get control
of what's going on from a safety standpoint."

The new ordinance prohibits dispensaries from being located within 1,000
feet of "sensitive use" areas such as schools, churches and parks,
setting the stage for the closure of more than 400 outlets.

Attorney Eric Shevin, who is representing more than a dozen medical
marijuana patients in a class-action lawsuit against the city, argued
that the law would unconstitutionally bar patients' access to their

On Friday, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant
rejected their bid for a temporary restraining order. The judge did ask
for additional arguments on whether allowing certain dispensaries to
remain open while closing others would be a violation of the equal
protection clause of the California Constitution.

Shutting down some 400 existing dispensaries would have tremendous
fallout, both economically and practically, said Shevin, who accused
city officials of changing the rules on the collectives that existed
before 2007 by prohibiting transfer of ownership.

"Landlords, who have been relying on this rental income, are going to
have leases terminated," Shevin said. "The overall effect will take time
to play out but the types of things we can expect to see are that
patients are going to have difficulty obtaining their medicine and the
few stores that remain will have difficulty meeting the demand."


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