With petition, council might pivot on marijuana policy
Medical marijuana supporters collected 50,000 signatures to overturn a ban to shut down most of the medical marijuana storefront dispensaries in Los Angeles last Thursday.
They submitted the petition to the City Clerkâs Office to call for a referendum on the March municipal election ballot, halting the ban from going into effect last Thursday. The City Attorneyâs Office notified 1,046 suspected dispensary locations to shut down by the Sept. 6 deadline or face a fine when the ban was approved in July. Los Angeles city officials are not currently enforcing the ban because of their ongoing verification of the 50,000 signatures submitted on the petition.
When the council passed the ban in July, a total of 762 dispensaries were registered within the city of Los Angeles. The new regulation does not permit the sale of medical marijuana in stores but does allow licensed patients and caregivers to grow their own marijuana under the Compassionate Care Act.
Steven Hwang, a USC alumnus who majored in human performance, co-founded Students for Sensible Drug Policy in January to push for drug policy reform. He said his organization did not help with directly gathering signatures for the petition but helped spread information about the ban.
âItâs not a sensible policy whatsoever,â Hwang said. âWe always want to ease patient access. We always want to provide them with the best quality for them to enjoy and medicate on their own from the safety of their homes. This ban is really out of touch with what the citizens are asking for.â
If the petition to eliminate the ban is verified, the L.A. City Council will decide whether to repeal the ordinance, call for a special election within the next 140 days or put it on the ballot March 5.
Sarah Lovering, development officer for the Marijuana Policy Project, said the ban will likely be overturned. She is also unsure, however, what it will mean for medical marijuana policy overall as the ban also bars the city from enforcing a 2010 ordinance to regulate dispensaries.
âIf the ban is repealed, then I guess we go to a situation where there is no ordinance, which could be good for patients,â she said. âIt means that patients will be able to shop at dispensaries. But dispensary owners will be at risk because there wonât be any clear guidelines about whoâs allowed to operate and where.â
She said the alternative to dispensaries is generally the black market, where there is no guarantee of quality or consistency of the product.
âThe benefits [of dispensaries] are things like patients who need medical marijuana will be able to find it much more easily and be able to have a lot more in its quality,â she said. âA lot of dispensaries do test their products and even those who donât âŠ it would be very easy to tell others about that and report it.â
Junior business major Cynthia Bardon said she supports the use of medical marijuana but sees potential dangers in a lack of regulation.
âThere should be more control to avoid illegal trafficking,â Bardon said. âIf people are going to try to obtain it illegally through street vendors, it will be more dangerous.â
Hwang said part of the initial goal of SSDP was to put a legalization initiative on the November ballot. Though there is no initiative on the ballot, Hwang said that SSDP will continue working for new policies.
âWeâre going to be rallying everyone to overturn this ban in March and elect more officials who have more sensible policies,â he said. âThis ban âŠ really makes no sense on how we can continue to ease access for the patients instead of putting up barriers and putting our patients in very dangerous situations.â
Staff writer Kimberly Montenegro contributed to this report.