L.A. takes on feds in pot battle
Council approves dispensary regulations but urges a moratorium on raids.
By Rick Orlov
Pitting itself against the U.S. government, the Los Angeles City Council approved plans Wednesday to limit new medical marijuana dispensaries, regulate existing ones and urge a moratorium on recent clinic raids by federal agents.
Despite warnings that it is treading on legally treacherous ground, the council voted 10-2 to adopt the plan amid concerns that hundreds of illegal clinics have sprouted up since 1996, when California voters approved Proposition 215 allowing the use of medicinal marijuana.
"When (the) law was first passed, we had two clinics operating in the city," said Councilman Dennis Zine, who proposed the plan to regulate operators. "Now we have more than 400.
"If we fail to act, we will have 800 or more in a few years. We need to take action to control the ones that are operating illegally and make sure that those people who need help get it."
But Councilmen Bernard Parks and Greig Smith opposed the measure, saying it puts Los Angeles at odds with the federal government, which continues to list marijuana as a controlled substance, and the Food and Drug Administration, which has not approved it for medicinal use.
"That is the law of the land," Parks said after being told the U.S. Supreme Court has rejected the medical marijuana argument. "People say there is a disagreement, but it appears to be on only one side. The federal law takes precedence over local laws."
Smith agreed with Parks.
"It is problematic that we are going against federal laws," Smith said.
"We may not like the federal law, but it is the law. We all took an oath where we were sworn to uphold and defend the Constitution. The fact California law is in conflict is unfortunate, but we should not have our own laws."
Councilman Richard Alarcon dismissed Smith's arguments as being "a God Bless America" speech.
"American history shows us that this is a classic challenge over state rights and federal rights," Alarcon said.
"This is part of the process of change as we go through a transition from a society that believed all marijuana use was wrong to one that is saying there are possibly good uses for medicinal marijuana.