Tuesday, July 23

Initial vote on marijuana dispensary restrictions fails

Even if Tuesday's marijuana ordinance passes in next vote, effect will likely be negligible

Two LCD monitors adorn the walls of Nirvana Pharmacy, naming the multiple varieties of marijuana it sells. Below them sit nine fully grown cannabis plants.

The dispensary opened in May 2009 and is one of the hundreds in L.A. County that may soon be forced to close their doors for good.

The Los Angeles City Council voted 11-3 on a marijuana ordinance Tuesday, hammering out the final details of the legislation. The new permanent ordinance aims to cap the number of dispensaries in the city to 70 and would place them in 1000-foot buffer zone from “sensitive areas” which include residential neighborhoods, schools, public parks and other areas.

The Tuesday vote failed to pass the required 12 votes to be approved on the first read, so the legislation will be delayed for a week to face a second vote.

The legislation is in direct response to the Medical Marijuana Interim Control Ordinance, which was put in place in 2007 and stopped any new dispensaries from opening. Yet hundreds of businesses were able to go around the ordinance by filing a hardship exemption and have operated on shaky legal ground while the city sorts through the hundreds of petitions.

Dispensaries that filed with the county prior to the 2007 legislation will be able to remain open notwithstanding the imposed limit, which would translate to 137 open dispensaries in the county. For Westwood, this would only include The Farmacy on Gayley Avenue.

Public Policy Professor Mark Kleiman said he wasn’t sure of a definite impact that the legislation would have.

He added that a lower number of dispensaries would probably function at higher volumes, serving more customers than they do currently but is uncertain whether the amount of cannabis served would decrease.

For Lori Singer, president of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, the issue was safe access for patients.

“It’s been a big struggle. The (district attorney’s office) is hell-bent in removing all the clubs from Los Angeles,” Singer said. “Yet, there are thousands of people that are reliant on this system to live their daily lives.”

Nirvana Pharmacy could be affected by the legislation, but the owner, Lev Goukassian, said he was optimistic.

Goukassian pointed to a voter initiative on the November ballot that would decriminalize the drug statewide. He said more restriction of the drug leads to higher crime rates.

“For any government in America, they are going to have to decide,” Goukassian said. “If you don’t want to change the law, people will be in jail.”

Kleiman argued that regulating the dispensaries is treating a symptom of a much wider problem. He said the drug should be prescribed and administered as other medications are, through official pharmacies.

To do this, he advocated that the Food and Drug Administration should move forward with medical research on cannabis. This, he said, would show whether or not cannabis was effective in treating any illnesses.

Kleiman said adequate research has not yet been completed because of federal restrictions on medical marijuana research.

Susan Leahy, manager of the Farmacy dispensary on Gayley Avenue, said she was hopeful the legislation would not hit her business.

“I don’t believe that The Farmacy in Westwood is in jeopardy right now,” Leahy said. “But if we had to move, it would be a hardship and extremely costly. We have established a clientele here.”

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