After 17 years of legal battles and uncertainty over legalized medical marijuana, some new clarity will be brought to the issue on May 21, when Los Angeles city voters will be asked to choose among three different measures regulating the growing industry.
Propositions D, E and F offer a range of new requirements for medical marijuana dispensaries, including taxes, caps on the number that can open and limits on their locations.
Prop. D was crafted by the Los Angeles City Council as a compromise measure between the other two, and now Prop. E supporters have stopped campaigning for their own measure and thrown their support behind D.
One of the key differences is that D would limit the number of dispensaries in Los Angeles to 135 -- the same facilities that existed before a city moratorium was imposed in 2007 -- while F has no cap. Both place a gross receipts tax of 20 percent on the dispensaries. F requires testing of the actual marijuana itself, as well as audits of the clinics. Prop. F is backed by clinics that would be excluded from the 135 cap. Prop. E proposes the cap of 135 -- and was originally backed by dispensaries that would be allowed to stay open -- but has no taxes and fewer specific restrictions than the other two.
"It is a controlled substance and does need to be regulated," said Kerry Townsend Jacob, a spokeswoman for the Prop. D campaign. "We feel our proposition, which was written by the city attorney and approved by the City Council, is the grown-up measure on the ballot.
"It's been a Wild West out there with no controls at all. We are allowing the operators who have complied with the city laws."
But Garry South, the political consultant for the Prop. F campaign, said Prop. D is identical to an earlier measure thrown out by the courts.
"Under Proposition D you are creating establishments that are grandfathered in from 2007," South said. "Under Proposition F, no one is grandfathered in. What they have to do is comply with the laws and regulations on where they can locate and how they can operate.
"As for the fear of the number of clinics, they are simply throwing up a red herring on the issue. If you look at a map, at best, we are looking at 300 to 450 dispensaries and even that is theoretical."
And, South said Prop. F advocates believe Prop. D will so tighten the number of dispensaries the city runs the risk of creating mega-stores used by hundreds of medical marijuana patients.
Since California voters approved the use of medical marijuana in 1996, cities throughout the state have grappled with regulating the clinics, looking for a balance between honoring the state law and concerns over crime and neighborhood nuisances sometimes associated with the facilities.
The city of Los Angeles has made several efforts to control their growth, but has run into numerous legal challenges, while estimates of the number of clinics has ranged from 1,000 to 2,000. A moratorium by the City Council attempted to limit the number to the 135 that had registered with the city by 2007, but that was later overturned by the courts.
City officials were concerned that allowing a measure like Prop. F to pass, while adding new restrictions and taxes, would allow an unlimited number of clinics to open. Prop. D attempts to return to the limit of 135.
Prop. D has much of the traditional organized support from the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, and its member unions as well as the county Democratic Party.
Prop. F was developed by other dispensary operators not allowed under current city laws.
It would open the city to other operators provided they comply with city regulations on their proximity to other dispensaries and the distance from residential neighborhoods, schools, churches and parks.
The two measures contain similar provisions regarding location and both impose a 20 percent tax on any receipts. Proposition D also requires the payment of any back taxes.
Prop. F supporters say other major differences are that they require background checks on all employees -- including volunteers -- annual audits of the dispensaries, testing of the marijuana and parking at the dispensaries. It also requires full-time security and controls on not allowing minors in their locations.
Those backing Prop. D say their measure was crafted to comply with court rulings on what is permissible while controlling the number of dispensaries allowed in the city.
Councilman Paul Koretz, who supports D, said he believes the measure contains the best practices in regulating the dispensaries.
"We are working with the operators who are the least nuisance-inducing," Koretz said. "I think having 100 or so operators is the appropriate number. I am afraid Proposition F will allow too many in. I think Proposition D is a good compromise."
Also, he said the measure tried to take into account other court rulings on the various issues. At the same time, he said he expects a court challenge if either measure is approved.
"I'm sure there will be court challenges," Koretz said. "If (Prop.) D passes, I'm sure those owners who would be put out of business will sue."
There are also some who oppose all the measures.
Councilman Mitch Englander has filed an argument against the measures, charging that federal law which still criminalizes any form of marijuana trumps state and local regulations.
"It's really a federal issue we have to deal with first," Englander said. "The federal government has supremacy over the city. And we have a multitude of issues to deal with.
"Too many people have access that they should not be entitled to. Sometimes, I think local government gets too tenacious in trying to fix things where it shouldn't."
Englander said he is sympathetic to those who need marijuana to control pain, but he said there are other avenues available.
"You can get a prescription to get it in pill form," Englander said. "We have to explore those options."
Neither measure is expected to be affected by an upcoming state Supreme Court case on whether local jurisdictions have the power to ban all the clinics within their jurisdiction.