The Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office is threatening local medical marijuana dispensaries with steep fines and potential jail time unless they close their doors by September 6. City officials recently sent a letter to over 1,000 locations where they believe medical marijuana shops are operating, as well as over 700 landlords who own the properties, to inform them they will incur a $2,500 fine for each day they remain open past the September deadline.
Although California passed a ballot initiative in 1996 allowing physicians to recommend and patients to possess marijuana, the L.A. City Council voted to ban medical marijuana dispensaries last month. This letter is an early step in the city’s attempt to enforce the ban and close down nearly 800 dispensaries that are currently operating in Los Angeles.
Kris Hermes, a spokesman for the advocacy group Americans for Safe Access, noted that since there are already several measures in the works to overturn the city ban on medical marijuana facilities — collecting enough signatures would force a referendum, and the state Supreme Court may take up the issue — it is hard to know how to respond to the city’s harsh crackdown:
But the city’s effort places the dispensary operators in an uncomfortable position, Hermes said.
“We don’t have a clear-cut response for them on what’s going on,” Hermes said. “It would be imprudent to tell them to stay open. But at the same time, there is all this other activity going on that could change the situation in a matter of weeks.”
Medical marijuana shops are struggling to remain open in other California cities as well. The world’s largest medical marijuana dispensary, Harborside Health Center, is facing pressure from the Justice Department to close its Oakland and San Jose facilities amid a federal crackdown against state-based marijuana shops.
Although marijuana is prohibited under federal law, 17 states and the District of Columbia have legalized cannabis for medical purposes, and nine additional states are considering legalizing it by the end of this year. An unprecedented majority of Americans now support marijuana legalization, and a bipartisan bill was recently introduced in the House to protect medical marijuana operations that are abiding by state law from federal interference.