Monday, October 19, 2009

Los Angeles Prepares for Clash Over Marijuana


LOS ANGELES — There are more marijuana stores here than public schools. Signs emblazoned with cannabis plants or green crosses sit next to dry cleaners, gas stations and restaurants.

A grower in a house in Berkeley, Calif., who said he could grow three crops a year, each worth about $40,000.

The dispensaries range from Hollywood-day-spa fabulous to shoddy-looking storefronts with hand-painted billboards. Absolute Herbal Pain Solutions, Grateful Meds, Farmacopeia Organica.

Cannabis advocates claim that more than 800 dispensaries have sprouted here since 2002; some law enforcement officials say it is closer to 1,000. Whatever the real number, everyone agrees it is too high.

And so this, too, is taken for granted: Crackdowns on cannabis clubs will soon come in this city, which has more dispensaries than any other.

For the first time, law enforcement officials in Los Angeles have vowed to prosecute medical marijuana dispensaries that turn a profit, with police officials saying they expect to conduct raids. Their efforts are widely seen as a campaign to sway the City Council into adopting strict regulations after two years of debate.

It appears to be working. Carmen A. Trutanich, the newly elected city attorney, recently persuaded the Council to put aside a proposed ordinance negotiated with medical marijuana supporters for one drafted by his office. The new proposal calls for dispensaries to have renewable permits, submit to criminal record checks, register the names of members with the police and operate on a nonprofit basis. If enacted, it is likely to result in the closing of hundreds of marijuana dispensaries.

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