The city attorney in Los Angeles says officials there have closed more than 500 illicit medical marijuana dispensaries since they started cracking down on the shops two years ago.
“We have succeeded in closing more than 500 illegal medical marijuana businesses here in the City of Los Angeles,” City Attorney Mike Feuer said in April.
Voters in L.A. passed an ordinance in 2013 that limits the number and locations of dispensaries throughout the city. At the time the local ballot initiative passed, officials estimated there were between 700 and 2,000 shops, the vast majority unregulated.
The city enacted a moratorium on new dispensaries in 2007, and only shops that were operating before that time are allowed to serve patients. Currently there about 120 businesses that meet the city’s tight new rules, though Feuer said those numbers may ultimately change.
Clampdown on illegal dispensaries
He said the city intends to drive out all illegal dispensaries, though that could be difficult given the many new shops that continue to pop up under the radar. Officials want to help needy patients, he said, but too many shops were flouting the rules.
“People who are really sick, who are suffering with cancer or other serious illnesses ought to have medical marijuana to alleviate their pain, but there are too many dispensaries,” Feuer said. “They were too close together; they were too close to schools and sensitive sites.
California has allowed medical weed since 1996, when voters passed the first MMJ law in the world. The drug is still illegal for recreational use, but that is likely to change in 2016.
Legalization would tighten regulations
That fact may render the city’s clampdown a moot effort. Legalization would almost certainly bring tighter regulations on marijuana statewide and may even reform the medical pot system.
Critics believe that system has too few restrictions and no oversight. Under the 1996 law, local municipalities, rather than state officials, are responsible for regulating medicinal cannabis. Those regulations vary widely from one community to another, creating an ambiguous legal patchwork that impedes law enforcement, dispensary owners, and patients.
Polls suggest legalization is likely during next year’s presidential election. That political race is expected to draw large numbers of young voters, the kind most likely to back recreational reform. If California legalizes, there may be little need to worry about MMJ rules.
Two attempts to legalize recreational weed have already failed in the Golden State. The first initiative failed at the ballot box in 2010 while the second fell apart last year after four separate groups failed to get their proposals on the ballot.
Still, it’s hard to imagine California’s relatively liberal voters passing on legalization a third time. Hopefully, someday soon, crackdowns like the one in Los Angeles won’t be necessary anymore.