Mounting Pressure in L.A. for Regulation of Dispensaries

In the face of growing police and neighborhood pressure, medical marijuana advocates are calling on the Los Angeles City Council to legally regulate the city's rapidly proliferating dispensaries.

New clubs have been sprouting up almost daily in the state's largest city, where nearly 100 clubs are now listed on the Cal NORML website. The Valley has been a hotbed of growth with some 40 clubs, most of them newly opened.

Until recently, new clubs generated few problems in LA's wide-open scene. Recently, however, complaints have surfaced about inappropriate siting near schools, catering to youth, public odor, code violations and other problems. In response, police have begun to harass and pressure offenders, sometimes with assistance from the DEA.

On September 30th, a team of LAPD and DEA agents raided North Valley Discount Caregivers in Granada Hills. The facility, which had been visited by police before, had been a target of neighborhood complaints.

(On October 22nd, another DEA team raided a dispensary in Torrance. The city council had passed an ordinance aimed at shutting the dispensary down.)

Previously, police in North Hollywood announced a crackdown against new dispensaries, threatening new operators with arrest and citing them with business code violations or other offenses. Speaking at a North Hollywood Neighborhood Council meeting, police officer John Smith warned, "To anyone who plans to open one of the clinics, DON'T OPEN. We will pursue you like any other narcotics investigation." Afterwards Smith cooled his heels, apparently on orders from his superiors. However, North Hollywood residents have continued to complain to city officials, charging that local clubs are soliciting high school and college kids.

In another troubling development, a team of DEA agents staged an abortive invasion of the oldest dispensary in the Valley, the Trichome Healing Center in Van Nuys. No one was arrested in the operation, which began on the afternoon of Aug. 30th when an undercover agent tried to gain entry to THC. without proper medical documents. After being denied entry, the agent blew his cool. A security guard noticed his gun; a scuffle broke out, and other agents came to the rescue. The DEA besieged the dispensary for several hours while waiting to procure a warrant. In the meantime, patient advocates showed up to protest and take photos. The LAPD arrived and reassured the crowd that they had a right to protest. The DEA left the scene after midnight after calling in a professional safecracker to clean out the premises. THC has since re-opened.

It remains unclear whether the LAPD was involved in the Van Nuys raid. For the past couple of years, it has been DEA policy not to raid medical marijuana dispensaries without support from local law enforcement. The exception has been when a particular federal investigation, such as a major grow bust, has led them to a dispensary. Given that the DEA arrived without a warrant at THC, the evidence suggests that it was pursuing a wider undercover operation aimed at penetrating the L.A. dispensaries.

Patient advocates are hopeful that L.A. can avoid a sweeping crackdown like that in San Diego. Unlike San Diego, L.A. County is not ill-disposed to medical marijuana. The L.A. Supervisors recently approved an ordinance to regulate dispensaries in the unincorporated county. Advocates are lobbying the City Council to adopt a similar measure.

L.A. City Councilman Dennis Zine has filed a motion for a one-year moratorium on new dispensaries while the city considers the issue. Medical marijuana advocates are inclined to support a moratorium, provided it is followed by sensible regulations, given the high population of facilities already serving the city.

"We think the city very much needs regulations for dispensaries," says Don Duncan, the Southern California Coordinator for Americans for Safe Access, "An absence of regulations could encourage further abuses and cause the community to doubt the credibility of the collectives."

Concerned Angelenos are urged to contact the City Council to express their support for dispensaries. To help, call SoCal ASA at (323) 464-7719 /

CAL NORML Reports, October 2006

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