While District Attorney Steve Cooley wants to charge ahead with a get-tough campaign against medical marijuana dispensaries, Los Angeles police said they are waiting for a definitive city policy regulating the businesses before stepping up their efforts against rogue operators.
Capt. Kevin McCarthy, commanding officer of the LAPD's gang and narcotics division, said that without a new city ordinance - which has been in the works for more than a year - officers cannot act against many of the clinics.
"We have been getting complaints from neighborhood councils and others and we log them and try to deal with them on a case-by-case basis," McCarthy said.
"I think the district attorney made clear where he wants to go," McCarthy said. "The city attorney and Sheriff Lee Baca are on board with him. The bottom line is we want to make sure people who need it have safe access.
"But we don't want to see situations develop where there are other problems."
In a radio interview on KABC-AM (790), Cooley reiterated his plan to close down many of the 800 to 900 medical marijuana shops believed to be operating in the city of Los Angeles.
"We will give them fair notice and, hopefully, they will see the light and voluntarily close down," Cooley said. "We are going to uphold the laws of California."
Local law enforcement has faced a dilemma as the City Council debates what to do about controlling the proliferation of marijuana
A moratorium on opening new shops expires in March and officials hope to have a new ordinance in place by then with detailed requirements on the shops and their allowed locations.
"None of us have a problem with the legitimate collectives," said Councilman Dennis Zine, who has taken the lead on the issue. "The problem is with all these for-profit places that open up all over and who give out marijuana to everyone."
Cooley and other officials say that in addition to selling to minors and others who do not use the drug for medical purposes, some of the dispensaries sell marijuana laced heavily with insecticides that endanger users even as they help finance Mexican drug cartels.
Councilman Greig Smith, who chairs the Public Safety Committee where the measure is pending, said he hopes to have action within the next two weeks.
Attorney Joe Elford, who has represented clinics, said he believes as long as the clinics follow the guidelines of the state Attorney General's Office, they should be allowed to operate.
"We support reasonable regulations - such as there are too many in one area or the like - but for the district attorney to come right out and say all sales of marijuana is illegal (conflicts) with state law and what the voters have approved," Elford said.
While the lack of an ordinance has partially tied the hands of the LAPD, McCarthy said officers have been able to go after brazen operators. For example, they took action against one shop that distributed fliers on the cars of students at a high school.
Councilman Paul Koretz, who wrote the state law implementing medical marijuana use, said he believes Cooley's approach goes too far.
"All of us want to do something to make sure there are controls," Koretz said. "I certainly never envisioned Los Angeles having more than 800 clinics. But I think the direction he is going is too far to try to eliminate all medical marijuana.
"It is clear they are out of hand, but the city is trying to deal with it."