By Emily Alpert Reyes
More than 100 pot shops have shut down since Los Angeles started enforcing its new rules restricting medical marijuana dispensaries, City Atty. Mike Feuer announced Monday.
Feuer said he was now stepping up that work, hiring two new attorneys who would exclusively tackle prosecutions under Proposition D, the measure passed by voters last spring. Staffers are also focusing more attention on real estate professionals and landlords renting space to marijuana dispensaries, providing them with a new brochure that warns of steep fines and jail time for breaking the rules.
"We have a long way to go, but we have a great start," said LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, who joined Feuer at a news conference. Beck said that new training on the law would help 165 senior lead officers in charge of neighborhood policing detect new and existing illegal shops.
Feuer said he was unsure how many marijuana dispensaries are now open in Los Angeles, since there is no permitting process for the shops. Before the measure passed last spring, police estimated that there were roughly 700 dispensaries, though others pegged the number far higher. The law taxes such businesses and gives limited immunity to pot shops that registered under a series of city ordinances starting seven years ago.'
Despite the crackdown, there are signs that more shops have opened: Since the rules went into effect last summer, more than 300 medical marijuana collectives have registered to pay business taxes, including nearly 200 with no previous record in the tax system, according to city finance officials. It is unclear exactly how many new shops are operating, since a business can obtain a registration certificate but not actually open its doors.
Feuer said his staff was sending letters to marijuana businesses that had recently registered to warn them that "if they've opened for the first time since 2013, they can't be lawful under Proposition D, and that they are subject to prosecution." He told reporters there was an "urban legend" that receiving a registration certificate meant a shop was lawful. He showed reporters a placard of such a certificate, superimposed with the words "Not a Permit to Operate."
However, the city attorney said there were no plans to ask the finance department to stop issuing those certificates to new dispensaries. Attorney David Welch, who represents a marijuana dispensary that is challenging its prosecution under the measure, argues that the city is "creating confusion."
The city "should take charge, determine who qualifies" and only allow those who do to get certificates, Welch said.
Under Prop. D, pot shops and the landlords that lease them space can be prosecuted if the shops don't meet several requirements, including being registered under past city ordinances and operating an adequate distance from public parks, schools, child care centers and other facilities.
The rules were expected to drastically shrink the number of marijuana dispensaries allowed to operate across the city, since only a fraction of Los Angeles dispensaries meet all those requirements, according to city estimates. Officials previously released a list of more than 100 shops believed to have met some of the requirements, but Feuer has stressed that being on that list does not afford any legal protection.
He said his office had successfully fended off repeated courtroom challenges to the law, but opponents counter the fight isn't over. "We're just in the beginning of our stages of attack," said defense attorney Bruce Margolin, who argues that Prop. D created "a kind of monopoly" for older dispensaries.
Beck said the law was "a work in progress," but the new steps would help make it a reality. "This won't be the last time we talk about medical marijuana, but maybe this is the first time that we talk about it where we see a solution."
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