LA voters clamp down on medical marijuana

LOS ANGELES — In this city where a lack of medical marijuana regulation made it the “Wild West” compared to the Bay Area, a historic election with three competing ballot measures has finally brought some order.

The winning measure, Proposition D — the most conservative of the three — gained 62.6 percent support from voters as a compromise between the City Council and a key labor union.

The measure limits medical marijuana activities to about 130 pot shops which were in existence before a failed 2007 city moratorium on dispensaries.

Neither of the other two measures received anywhere near the 50 percent-plus one vote needed to pass.

Measure E was caught in no man’s land, getting only 34.6 percent ‘yes’ votes after union backers threw their support to Proposition D.

Measure F — backed by many pot shops and known as  ‘No on D’ — gained support from 40.9 percent of voters.

Though only about a quarter of all votes had been reported approaching midnight on Tuesday, the Yes on D campaign at Lucky Strike in Hollywood celebrated a victory.

Early vote totals tend to represent conservative-leaning absentee voters, but Yes on D’s Rigo Valdez, vice president and director of organizing for the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770, was confident when he told SFBay:

“We are the citizens’ coalition to protect patients and neighborhoods. The difference between D and F is this is a coalition of labor collectives and patients and F is a lawyer and his clients trying to get their way and at the end of the day, the coalition that represents L.A.’s interests in the medical marijuana issue wins.”

Unlike Oakland and other Bay Area cities, where laws lay out registration requirements and dispensary count limits, Los Angeles had no law of the land. After the city’s unsuccessful moratorium in September 2007, pot shops proliferated like wild mushrooms — growing to more than 1,000, according to estimates.

Proposition D will allow the 135 cannabis shops to continue operating, but added a six percent tax on their earnings and require they close by 8 p.m.

Yes on D proponent Yamileth Bolanos, a dispensary owner since 2006, two-time cancer survivor and medical marijuana patient, questioned the motives of organizers pushing Measure F, which would have placed the same taxes but no limit on the number of pot shops.

Bolanos, also the president and founder of advocacy group Greater Los Angeles Collective Alliance, told SFBay:

“I believe in Los Angeles. People thought that somehow recreational use was the item of the day and they forgot that the law is for medical marijuana use only and all the people that ran against us are recreational users. They should go ahead and pass their own law but what we have today with D passing is medical marijuana for patients of the city.”

Not far from the swank Lucky Strike bowling alley where Proposition D supporters were celebrating, “Yes on F, No on D,” met at La Descarga, a hole-in-the-wall bar on Western near Santa Monica Blvd.

Michael Bustamante, campaign strategist for Yes on F, No on D, told SFBay that the real number of pot shops that would meet requirements to operate under Proposition D would be a mere 40 or 50 versus 135:

“Access was the thing we were most concerned about and continue to be concerned about for patients. Anything that suggests otherwise is just frankly hyperbole. We’re obviously disappointed that Measure F didn’t pass and we hope that the access to medical marijuana that proponents of D promised will come through for patients.”

The battle may not be completely over, though.

Yes on F lawyer David Welch said he is “very certain” he will sue once all votes for Proposition D are verified and it becomes law.

Los Angeles has been back-and-forth on regulation in the last five years, he said, and always favored dispensaries that operated before the 2007 moratorium even though they were not required to register:

“It lacks a rational basis of distinction between a 2007 dispensary versus a 2009 dispensary that has been paying taxes. The issue is being settled before the California Supreme Court.”

But Proposition D attorney Bradley Hertz, of San Francisco-based Sutton Law Firm, told SFBay he is not concerned:

“If opponents of Prop. D were to file a lawsuit, the city attorney would in all likelihood defend Prop. D and we as the proponents of Prop. D would probably also be involved.”

While at odds, Proposition D and Measure F backers agree that medical marijuana regulation in the Bay Area has historically been more organized. Welch said:

“Oakland didn’t wait four or five years to create laws. They set up registration requirements, set up a numerical cap in the city. They sort of nipped it in the butt whereas in L.A. they let the weeds run wild and it got out of control.”

In Los Angeles, it wasn’t until 2006 that people began to realize they could open dispensaries with a regular retail business license, said Tolabus Stein, 41, who pioneered one of the city’s first shops and stocked it with cannabis from the Bay Area. Stein, a Yes on D supporter, told SFBay:

“L.A. didn’t have any ordinances, so it was like the Wild West. Up north, they were more proactive when it comes to patient growing. They’re proactive and they’re more conscious of the types of marijuana.”

Valdez, who lived in San Francisco’s Mission District for almost two decades before moving back home to Los Angeles a few years ago, sees his proposition’s success as a solid first step toward the clear regulation that has been established in the Bay Area:

“We’re behind the eight ball in SoCal and Proposition D is one way we can be on par with San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose that have managed to keep medical marijuana under control.”