Judge Tosses L.A. Pot Dispensary Moratorium
A superior court judge issued a ruling Friday stopping Los Angeles from enforcing a moratorium on new medical marijuana dispensaries.
The city council approved the moratorium six months ago. But the ordinance said dispensaries must have registered before November 13, 2007 — before the original moratorium was put in place — to operate legally.
Superior Court Judge Anthony Mohr ruled that the city’s deadline was “arbitrary and capricious” because the registration requirement expired in 2007, reports John Hoeffel of The Los Angeles Times.
The decision leaves the city with limited power to control dispensaries, which opened by the hundreds after city officials failed to enforce the 2007 moratorium due to a boilerplate “hardship” loophole.
Near the end of his 40-page ruling, Judge Mohr acknowledged “there is a good chance that a large number of collectives could open once this injunction takes effect,” but said his order is warranted because the dispensaries which have sued the city were highly likely to win in a trial.
Five and a half years ago, when the Los Angeles City Council first talked about regulating medical marijuana dispensaries, they could only locate four of them in the city. It took five years before the city’s ordinance, one of the most complicated in the state, took effect.
More than 100 dispensaries have filed at least 42 lawsuits challenging the ordinance and its accompanying moratorium.
“We’re singing ‘Happy Days Are Here Again,’ said Stewart Richlin, an attorney representing nine dispensaries. Meanwhile, David Welch, who represents more than 60 of the pot shops, said his clients were “ecstatic.”
“It means they can’t use strong-arm tactics, such as arresting my clients,” Welch said of Judge Mohr’s decision.
“I suspect that their exuberance will be short lived,” groused special assistant City Attorney Jane Usher, noting that Mohr, in ruling against some provisions of the ordinance, also suggested ways to fix it.
“He left 90 percent of it intact and gave us methods for quickly correcting the remaining provisions,” Usher said. “I think we’ll be gracious and accept.”
Councilman Ed Reyes, who led the drive on the City Council to draft the ordinance, said he hoped to have a proposal to address the judge’s ruling by Monday.
“My sense of urgency is that great,” Reyes said. “I’ve already learned from the past that, if you open up the window just a little, people just crash through. We have to close that window as quick as possible.”
Judge Mohr ruled that the provision outlawing dispensaries that registered after the 2007 moratorium is unconstitutional because the ban was not properly extended and expired almost two months before the November 13, 2007 deadline for dispensaries.
“The justification for using that date as a bright line was compromised, if not confounded, by the fact that it was unnecessary to register,” he wrote.
The decision throws into confusion the city’s ongoing decisions about which dispensaries are allowed to stay open. The council already delayed by six months enforcement of the ordinance’s restrictions, such as the requirement that pot shops be at least 1,000 feet away from schools.
The judge, however, said the council could fix the ordinance by simply allowing all dispensaries that existed before a certain date and banning the others. He noted that documents dispensaries filed with the city in 2007 when they registered could be used as proof they were operating at the time.
Usher said the city attorney’s office would probably recommend the council do that.
The judge also ruled the ordinance violated the due-process rights of the dispensaries because it shut them down without a hearing, and the privacy rights of patients because it required dispensaries to make member records available to the police.
Defending the deeply flawed ordinance has already cost the city hundreds or thousands of hours of legal time. At some hearings, half a dozen city lawyers showed up.
Steve Elliott, a working journalist since 1982, is editor of Toke of the Town, Village Voice Media’s site covering cannabis news, views, rumor and humor. He started writing when that rock and roll drummer thing didn’t work out, but chicks still dig him.