L.A. to Shutter Hundreds of Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

New rules will force hundreds of medical pot clinics to close in Los Angeles.

January 26, 2010, 6:49 PM

Jan. 26, 2010— -- Sour Diesel, Blue Dream and Woody Kush. They're just a few of the 40 flavors Green Oasis serves up in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Playa Vista.

No, they're not flavors of frozen yogurt, but of strains of medical marijuana. And in its Howard Hughes-era building with the creamy green walls, marijuana collective Green Oasis even offers a 1,300-square foot "vaporizing lounge," which administers the drug in a vaporous mist as an alternative to smoking. Since it opened 8 months ago, the Green Oasis has dispensed medical marijuana to an average of 300 clients per week.

But under a new ordinance passed today by the Los Angeles City Council, Green Oasis, and hundreds of other medical marijuana dispensaries in L.A. may be forced to shut down.

The new regulations, passed by a vote of 9-3, will limit the number of medical marijuana dispensaries to 70 and impose strict limits on their location and how they operate.

The council decided to allow 137 additional dispensaries which registered with the city before a September 2007, to continue operating as long as they meet the new regulations. That leaves few options that would allow Green Oasis to stay open.

"Ordinances in general are good, but I find this one to be too strict," said Brian Berens, the founder and owner of Green Oasis. "It relies too much on who came before '07, which is arbitrary."

The 18-page ordinance spells out a host of new regulations. Dispensaries may not be located next to a residential area or within a 1,000 foot radius of a school, park, library or any other dispensary. The dispensary may only stay open between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m.

In addition, each marijuana collective must install Web-based closed-circuit cameras to monitor the premises and provide a uniformed security guard patrol for a two-block radius surrounding the dispensary while operating.

The council has been debating the regulations for more than four years, during which time hundreds of dispensaries have sprouted up across the region.

The city estimates there are more than 500 collectives, but some estimates go as high as 1,000. Whatever the actual number, the running joke here is there may be more pot dispensaries in Los Angeles then there are Starbucks.

L.A. to Shutter Hundreds of Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

Residents and community groups have been complaining about the proliferation of the dispensaries for years.

Open only since May 2009, Green Oasis could be shut for being too new, but its on-site vaporizing lounge, could also shut the dispensary down. The new ordinance also prohibits inhaling, smoking or eating marijuana on the premises.

"No one's throwing parties here," said Berens. "Most people can't afford a $600 vaporizer. We want to provide marijuana in a healthy manner."

Berens is also the founder and a board member of the Los Angeles Collective Association which represents 70 medical marijuana dispensaries. Members meet monthly at Green Oasis and litigation may be on the next agenda. But Berens sees that as a last resort. He said he will propose collecting signatures to get the ordinance recalled on the next ballot.

The city council vote was followed by nearly an hour of public comment, mostly from people opposed to the ordinance. Among its few supporters was Lisa Sarkin, Land Use committee chair for the Studio City Neighborhood Council.

?Studio City has 28,000 residents and we have 13 medical marijuana dispensaries. They?re all basically on Ventura Boulevard within armshot of each other. I can?t imagine how this could be necessary.?

But Sarkin questioned the city?s ability to inspect dispensaries amid budget cuts. ?I?m going to ask you: How are you going to enforce anything without a budget??

More than 120 cities in California have an outright ban on medical marijuana dispensaries, according to statistics kept by Americans for Safe Access, the largest medical marijuana advocacy organization in the United States. There are more than 30 city ordinances. The L.A. ordinance may be especially restrictive.

"It's somewhat of a bittersweet victory," said Kris Hermes, a spokesperson for ASA. "It's important the city regulate medical dispensaries but the ordinance has some very onerous property restrictions which threaten to shrink the number of facilities into the single digits."

But it will take several weeks for the ordinance to take effect.

It must first go to L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who said he will sign the ordinance. "This legislation isn't perfect, but the Mayor feels it is a step in the right direction,? said his spokesperson Sarah Hamilton.

Then the council must decide on fees the collectives pay for inspection. That process is expected to take at least 45 days.