03/29/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Medical Marijuana Faces Obstacles In LA

Produced by HuffPost's Eyes & Ears Citizen Journalism Unit

Despite sharp criticism and the threat of litigation on Tuesday, the LA City Council formally approved an ordinance that will close an estimated 800 medical marijuana collectives in the city.

Between 70 and 186 dispensaries would be allowed to remain open under new restrictions, though more than 75% of those would have to relocate. Opponents of the ordinance say these restrictions infringe on the right to the safe access afforded medical marijuana patients under the Compassionate Use Act of 1996
"Clearly you all don't understand," attorney Jennifer Soares told the City Council, "This is medicine. So treat it like medicine."
The new restrictions require dispensaries to locate far from churches, public schools, rehab centers and other "sensitive use" areas. Other stipulations in the ordinance include that dispensaries keep security footage on file for long periods, confine patients to membership at a single collective, require specific ID cards and offer patients' contact information to law enforcement without a subpoena.

Graham Berry, an attorney representing several of the dispensaries that may be forced to close, suggested that these restrictions imply that marijuana is being regulated as a dangerous or criminal substance rather than something with genuine medical uses. 

"The needs of this particular medical group and patients should not be treated like gambling, sex, and liquor stores," said Berry. "Please stop playing politics with patients' rights and health."

While the ordinance ostensibly clarifies the use of marijuana as a medical substance under California state law, its provisions take more from the federal stance on marijuana as a criminal substance. There appears to be real confusion as to whether the city is regulating marijuana as medicine or a controlled substance and some ambiguity in the ordinance as to whether its users (as recommended by MDs) ought to be considered real patients or potential criminals.

One of the major problems with the ordinance, according to City Councilman Bill Rosenthal and others, is that it may not even help to reduce marijuana's role in criminal activity.

"Somewhere in the '80s," Rosendahl said, "the federal government turned [marijuana] into this thing worse than any other drug out there and then they began filling the jails. We saw gangs go from community neighborhood interactions into a serious territory marijuana distribution operation, and so funds would come in and they would enhance one's gang membership. What do they do? They fight with each other over territory in the selling of drugs."

Other LA residents agreed with Rosenthal's sentiment.

"If you want to keep crime off the streets," said Los Angeles resident Karen Elizabeth during public comment. "Keep the dispensaries open."

Mark Herd, a member of the Westwood neighborhood council, also urged the council to consider medical marijuana in the same way as other medicines, and protested that the ordinance's location restrictions would leave no dispensaries in Brentwood, the Pacific Palisades, Westwood and many other areas of the City. 

"Bill Rosendahl," Herd said, "understands that we need more than one Walgreen's in Venice."