Medical marijuana dispensary owners submitted more than 100,000 signatures Monday in their bid to place a measure on the Los Angeles city ballot in March to give the 135 dispensaries in operation before a 2007 moratorium priority in bidding for dispensary licenses.

Also on Monday, Los Angeles City Clerk Holly Wolcott certified an initiative for the same March ballot to impose a two-year building moratorium on most major developments in the city and ban many zoning variances. Neighborhood activists, with financial backing from the AIDS Healthcare Foundation in Hollywood, had previously also submitted more than 100,000 signatures.

On the medical marijuana dispensary front, the filing of the initiative is the first salvo in what’s expected to be a bitter battle over the future of medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles. A state law passed in 2015 requires that by 2018, every medical marijuana dispensary must have a city license.

A group of 40 dispensary owners that were part of the original 135 dispensaries in operation filed this initiative to give these 135 dispensary owners priority in any new licensing scheme the city puts forward to meet the state law. It would also give the city the authority to impose fines of up to $10,000 a day on illegal medical marijuana operations. Estimates are that up to 1,000 additional dispensaries have opened up in recent years, despite efforts of City Attorney Mike Feuer to shut down illegal operators.

The group, UCBA Trade Association, filed with the city clerk’s office more than 100,000 signatures, well over the 61,500 needed to qualify for the March ballot.

Another group of medical marijuana operators is expected to file for an initiative for a completely open bidding process for medical marijuana dispensaries.

On the building moratorium initiative, Wolcott on Monday certified 103,816 valid signatures, easily placing that measure on the March ballot. The City Council now has the option to enact the provisions of the measure on its own or let the measure go onto the March ballot. With several city councilmembers openly opposing the measure, the council is not likely to enact the provisions on its own.

Another measure aimed at development is already on the November ballot; it authorizes the city to require affordable housing set-asides on certain development projects, among other things. This measure has significant backing from both business and labor groups.

Public policy and energy reporter Howard Fine can be reached at hfine@labusinessjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @howardafine.

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