In an attempt to get some regulation on the books, the Los Angeles City Planning Commission on Thursday adopted a measure granting limited immunity from enforcement to some medical marijuana clinics in the city.
The panel's 5-0 vote keeps in place restrictions prohibiting dispensaries from being within 1,000 feet of residential areas, schools and religious institutions. The city approval will allow some clinics not in those areas to operate with immunity from local enforcement.
Special assistant city attorney Jane Usher, however, said it would not prohibit enforcement by federal or state law enforcement agencies.
"This is no way interferes or alters other law enforcement practices," Usher said. "It is the city standing down."
Usher said the measure was developed at the direction of the City Council, which passed a total ban on pot shops in July but then rescinded the law in October after dispensary supporters qualified a referendum for the ballot seeking to overturn the ban.
Now, medical marijuana supporters are collecting signatures to put two other initiatives on the May 21 ballot that would adopt more lenient dispensary requirements, which could be changed only by a future vote of the public.
Under the proposed ordinance passed by the Planning Commission on Thursday, the city would allow dispensaries that have been in operation since September 2007, have registered with the city, pay taxes and agree to limits on hours of operation and location.
Fewer than 182 dispensaries meet those requirements, according to the City Attorney's Office.
In addition, collectives of three or fewer people would be exempt, as are the caregivers of patients needing medical marijuana.
The Planning Commission agreed to allow the City Attorney's Office to make some technical changes to the measure before submitting it to the City Council for consideration.
The medical marijuana community praised the Planning Commission's decision.
"We think this is the best way to go," said Don Duncan, California director of Americans for Safe Access. "We would urge there be more time granted to relocate the clinics."
Aaron Green, who represents Angelenos for Safe Access that includes 97 dispensaries, called it a "quality ordinance" that provides access to medical marijuana for those who need it, but warned it could be overruled this spring by voters in favor of more lenient dispensary rules.
Usher said the measure took into consideration all the legal actions filed against the city on medical marijuana over the past several years.
And, she cautioned that another element could upend all the work on the issue.
"At this point, we are disappointed that the California Supreme Court has yet to schedule arguments," Usher said. "So this is an awkward time to bring you legislation. If it is adopted, I still would expect it to be subject to lots and lots of lawsuits."
The city has been grappling with how to manage medical marijuana dispensaries since the number of pot shops exploded several years ago. It has been estimated there are between 700 to 1,000 dispensaries operating in the city, although the federal government and the Los Angeles Police Department have sought to close many.
L.A.'s attempts to draft a law regulating when and where dispensaries may operate have been stymied by lawsuits and court rulings.