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Thursday, Dec 7, 2023

City May Have Less in Store for Pot Dispensaries

Three members of the L.A. City Council have asked City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo’s office to make a less restrictive draft ordinance to regulate the city’s medical marijuana dispensaries.

The draft ordinance establishes a procedure and requirements a dispensary must meet to obtain a registration certificate from the city.

But critics say the city attorney’s version, if approved, would create confusion because it differs significantly from an existing county ordinance. It also includes requirements difficult for a large operation to meet, such as requiring all patients using the facility to sign the initial application to the city.

“What we’ve been given would seem to prohibit the kind of storefront operations that are common today,” said Councilmember Janice Hahn, who with Dennis Zine and Bill Rosendahl sent the letter to Delgadillo in late November.

The council in 2007 instituted a one-year moratorium on new dispensaries to give it time to consider regulations that would enable reputable businesses to operate under California’s “compassionate use” law, but keep out bad operators. The moratorium expired in September, requiring the city to use one of two six-month extensions allowed.

About 230 dispensaries filed paperwork with the city by the Nov. 11, 2007 deadline, with roughly two dozen of them asking for a “hardship exemption” to get more time to complete the requirements. But others filed applications months later, leading Zine to believe there are new operators in violation of the moratorium.

“The process has taken far longer than it should have and I’m concerned that we’ve had a number of locations open with no oversight whatsoever,” said Zine.

About 100 hardship exemptions have yet to be reviewed by the council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee.

Critics say the draft ordinance reflects an outdated notion of marijuana collectives as small groups of patients and caregivers that has since been superseded by legislation and court rulings.

“The city attorney’s office appears to be clinging to an old position that the sale of medical cannabis is illegal in California,” said Don Duncan, California director of patient advocacy group Americans for Safe Access, who participated in a community working group that made recommendations they say were largely ignored by the city attorney’s office.

Despite state law, California dispensaries continue to have precarious existences and are regularly raided and closed by federal drug enforcement agents.

A spokesman for the City Attorney’s Office declined to comment on the council’s letter, and said a group of assistant city attorneys working on the ordinance was drafting a response.

Dual-Purpose Heliport

The first state-of-the-art heliport designed to serve both medical air transport needs and corporate clients in downtown Los Angeles opened last week across the street from California Hospital Medical Center.

Real estate and aviation investor Robert Maguire made the site available atop the 15-story Grand Avenue Garage owned by his company. Maguire, a longtime supporter of the hospital, also arranged for engineering services to reinforce the elevated landing pad, built a special lift for gurneys, and a bank of elevators to transport patients to street level where they can be moved to the hospital’s Leavey Trauma Center, which opened four years ago.

The improvement will enable the renamed Robert Maguire Heliport to accommodate a variety of air ambulances. The hospital is working out communications protocols to decrease the chance the heliport might be in use by a corporate client when it is needed by an air ambulance, a hospital spokeswoman said.

Anti-Rescission Bill

Proponents of health care reform, such as Assemblymember Hector De La Torre (D-South Gate), are seeking more modest legislation than they have in the past due to the state’s $11 billion budget deficit.

De La Torre is trying to prevent health insurers from improperly rescinding coverage for individual policy holders who are diagnosed with a costly disease that the insurer contends was a pre-existing condition the patient should have earlier disclosed.

Last week he re-introduced a bill, renamed Assembly Bill 2, which, in the last session, passed the Legislature with bipartisan support but was vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

He said industry players now appear more willing to support the bill because they want to avoid fines by state regulators, such as those levied against Anthem Blue Cross.

The bill will require independent external review before health insurers can deny or rescind coverage. The Department of Managed Health Care and the Department of Insurance also would jointly establish standard information and health history questions to be used on patient applications.

Staff reporter Deborah Crowe can be reached dcrowe@labusinessjournal.com or at (323) 549-5225, ext. 232.

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