What the hell is going on in LA?

Talk about strange. Medical cannabis in Los Angeles has been a controversial issue…well…since forever. But the current situation has taken on a life of its own, as the “every man for themselves” mentality has taken over, and individuals, organizations, legal teams, unions, groups of organizations, and of course, the City, have decided to enter Thunderdome.

I read this article today in the LA Times entitled Proponents of LA Medical Marijuana Ballot Measure Shift Support. In the article it explains how there will now be no less that THREE medical cannabis regulatory initiatives going before the voters in May. Does that sound confusing enough? Well, add in that now the Americans for Safe Access/GLACA/UFCW group has pulled support for THEIR OWN proposal in favor of a similar proposal with a HIGHER tax rate that is being put on the ballot by the City, and what you have is virtual chaos.

Let me see if I can provide a little background. Medical cannabis began to really flourish in Los Angeles in 2006-2007 after the Raich decision. In August of 2007, the City passed an Interim Control Ordinance (ICO) that established a moratorium on new dispensaries. This ICO contained a hardship clause that allowed for collectives that were affected by Federal interference letters to move to a different location. Well, the devil is in the details, and the way the hardship clause was written it actually allowed for any collective, regardless of if they filed as a Pre-ICO collective, to register under this clause. By the end of 2008, it was estimated there were between 500-1000 dispensaries in Los Angeles, and the majority had registered with the City under this hardship clause.

Are you still with me? To make a long story short, the ICO was ruled illegal and has since had its sunset clause go into effect, meaning it is in no way law, and was illegal to begin with. So now there is this imaginary line in the sand and a list of these 183 collectives that registered under the ICO that have been supposedly operating since pre-August 2007. Many of these collectives are either not open any longer, or have changed ownership several times over the past few years. Very few are operated by the folks who registered them. There are also several hundred other dispensing collectives who opened either in the hardship period, or while the legal status of collectives remained in flux. Many of these groups have been open for several years and do a good job of providing medicine to their patients. They employ people and also contribute greatly to the communities they serve. The reality is that they are not any more, or less, “legal” than the pre-ICO collectives.

Fast forward to now, and what seems like a million legal twists and turns later. Earlier in the year a coalition of the Greater Los Angeles Caregivers Alliance, Americans for Safe Access, and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union gathered signatures to put an initiative on the ballot in May that would only allow for pre-ICO collectives to exist, and would restrict their locations in addition to adding a supplemental tax. It would essentially close all dispensaries that were not open before August of 2007, and who did not register with the City under their illegal ordinance. While I do not agree with the premise of the proposal, it is clear that the group is working to appease local officials and put forth an effort that protects the interests of these organizations. It is not what I would do, but I understand the strategy behind it.

Meanwhile, the group of dispensaries that were not registered under the ICO, but who have been operating for some time, gathered the necessary signatures to put their own initiative on the ballot. This initiative is more of what I would look to as an activist and patient who desired a more competitive and robust local industry. It limits the dispensaries based on location and certain requirements, but also allowed for new dispensaries to apply and for ALL dispensaries to have the right to exist if they met the requirements. From a person who supports more access to less expensive medicine in a more competitive environment, I see this proposal as a good option. It also does not give credence to what was an Interim Control Ordinance that was ill-conceived and which caused ultimate chaos in LA, in California, and for medical cannabis across the nation. Why we would reward that bad behavior is beyond me.

So there are the TWO measures that were set to compete for the LA vote in May. Which would have made for an interesting battle in itself….BUT enter the defunct and corrupt City government to also throw their hat in the ring and propose an initiative of their own. Yes. You heard that right….THREE initiatives to regulate medical cannabis. How does the City plan on making their initiative palatable to the Union supporting the first initiative who has a lot of pull at City Hall, and get more votes than the other two initiatives? They regulate down to the pre-ICO group but add a HIGHER TAX RATE to get the voters to buy in. Everyone wants to tax the weedhead, ya’ know?

But now, in a move I can only describe as “unbelievable” the UFCW/ASA/GLACA coalition has decided to drop support for their own proposal and support the proposal being put forth by the City. which is the MOST RESTRICTIVE and MOST EXPENSIVE option on the table. Did I miss something?

When I began this journey as a weed activist, I certainly believed the goal was to get cannabis to the most people who needed it at the best value in a clean and safe environment. To me, I just do not get this move and do not understand the logic behind this decision. Maybe I do not have all of the facts, but from an outsider looking in it would seem that more access points for more people would create better value and better service options for patients.

Here is Americans for Safe Access’ own Talking Points on Medical Cannabis Dispensary Regulations regarding this:

Limiting Medical Cannabis Dispensing Collectives is a Bad Idea:

  • It is not necessary for policymakers to set arbitrary limitations on the number of dispensing collectives allowed to operate. Obviously, collectives who provide quality care and patient services to their membership will flourish whereas those that provide little or no service will fail.
  • Capping the number of medical dispensaries limits consumer choice, which results in both decreasing quality of care and affordability issues.
  • Limiting the number of dispensing collectives allowed to operate may place additional burdens on patients with limited mobility. It is crucial that collectives be readily accessible to patients throughout and across the county.

So by their own admission, on their own website, the effort they are putting forth is a BAD IDEA. Super.

Regardless of where you fall on either side of this debate, LET THE GAMES BEGIN! It is going to be a hotly contested issue come April and May in LA, and it would bode well for people to do their homework and figure out what is happening. Do not be pushed into group think. Look deep in your heart, examine the options, facts, and motivations of all of the positions; and make a more informed decision on which effort and who you support in what is sure to be an epic weed war in LA this spring.

I am literally dumbfounded, myself, and cannot for the life of me figure out which way is up in this movement anymore. What is for sure is that it is entertaining regardless and will likely be one for the ages. I love you LA, but damn….

Not sure this is gonna play out so well at the next “unity conference.”

UPDATE: GLACA Director, Yamileth Bolanos, wanted to be sure that everyone understood that their coalition put up the signatures to stop the LA ban on dispensaries that the city enacted in July, and that they did it with the help of no other local stakeholders.

(So I guess that is what makes it okay to support the initiative with the least access and the most financial burden on patients….?)