The Los Angeles City Council has lost it.
In a slap in the face to voters and patients, the City Council voted yesterday to direct the LAPD to coordinate with the DEA and the district attorney to enforce its recent ban on medical marijuana dispensaries, which is scheduled to go into effect on September 6.
The ban seems unlikely to stick: It is subject to both a legal challenge and a referendum petition. If advocates collect enough signatures, the odds strongly favor voters rejecting the ban. A 2009 MPP-commissioned poll found that 77% of L.A. County voters preferred regulation and licensing to a ban. Only 14% favored a complete ban on dispensaries. It is hard to overstate how out of touch this action is with voters. Los Angeles voters not only support medical marijuana; in 2010, 54% voted for Prop. 19, which would have allowed for marijuana to be sold for adults' use. Meanwhile, some courts have found that cities canʼt ban dispensaries and that doing so is preempted by state law. The California Supreme Court is taking up the issue.
But even if the ban is overturned by voters or in court, the damage done by calling in the feds could be extreme and irreversible for some. Letters from federal prosecutors threatening property forfeiture have resulted in hundreds of dispensaries closing statewide. Under California law, the penalties for violating the ban (if it wasnʼt overturned in courts) would be civil fines or misdemeanors. But in federal court — where perfect compliance with state law is no defense — harsh felony penalties could be imposed.
How many patients will have to go to the streets and risk muggings and contaminated marijuana if the LAPD and feds shut down their access? How many properties will become vacant? How many compassionate retailers will lose their livelihood or perhaps even their freedom? City law required dispensaries to employ security guards. How many crimes will result from the security guards being gone, as well as from this large market moving underground and due to the diverted law enforcement time?
In March 2013, I expect that Los Angeles voters will repeal the ban. As they do so, theyʼll also have a chance to elect new council members for more than half of the seats. It’s about time politicians realize that if they wage a war on medical marijuana, their political futures may become collateral damage.
For more information on the outrageous ban, you can listen to an archive of MPP’s Sarah Lovering on KPFK. Sarah’s segment aired on Uprising! this morning, Thursday, August 23. It begins about 20 minutes in, or one-third of the way.