Los Angeles voters approve limiting medical marijuana shops

Los Angeles, which has more storefront medical marijuana shops than any other U.S. city, will close hundreds of the dispensaries and hike taxes on those that will be allowed to remain under a ballot measure approved by a wide margin of voters.

Nearly 63 percent of voters supported Proposition D, which will cap the number of medical pot dispensaries at 135, compared with 37 percent opposed, according to preliminary results released on Wednesday, the day after the vote.

Two rival measures that also would have placed new restrictions on the city’s medical marijuana industry were defeated by wide margins.

At least 800 storefront medical cannabis shops are estimated to be operating in Los Angeles, the country’s second-largest city, and some residents have complained that the dispensaries are a blight on their neighborhoods.

The dispensaries that will be allowed to remain were in operation before city leaders approved a moratorium in September 2007 in a failed effort to prevent the arrival of new storefronts selling marijuana as medicine.

In the years following passage of that limit, hundreds of dispensaries opened amid lax enforcement and a successful challenge by pot activists in state court.

California was the first of 18 states to legalize marijuana use for medical purposes. But pot remains classified as an illegal narcotic under U.S. law, and a number of dispensaries in Los Angeles and elsewhere have been raided or forced to shut down by federal authorities.

Despite the prospect of greater city controls, campaign officials said many medical marijuana dispensaries joined the push for local regulation in an effort to gain legitimacy and stave off a potential federal crackdown.

Under Proposition D, the city could begin to close medical pot stores by sending cease and desist letters to their owners, Christopher Koontz, a Los Angeles city official, said in an email. If a dispensary stayed open, the city could obtain a court order to shutter it, he said.


A union that supports the measure, the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770, has sought to expand its reach into the legal marijuana industry by organizing dispensary workers. Many of the shops permitted to stay in business under the measure already have union ties, according to the UFCW.

Rigo Valdez, director of organizing for the UFCW, said the push to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries in the city reflects “a community outcry” over their proliferation.

“I think that if the city attorney and the city of L.A. says, ‘We’ve got this,’ that the federal government stays out” of enforcement in Los Angeles, he said.

Under the measure, placed on the ballot by the City Council, taxes on medicinal pot will be increased to $60 per $1,000 in gross sales, from the current rate of $50 per $1,000 in gross sales.

In a sign of the loose rules that have governed medical marijuana outlets in Los Angeles, local officials said they were unsure of precisely how many storefronts exist.

Based on figures from the city clerk and city attorney, officials estimate between 800 and 1,200 dispensaries are in operation, Koontz said.

A 2011 report by the University of California, Los Angeles, pegged the number of dispensaries in the city at 472, but that figure has been questioned by both pot activists and officials.

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