LA Medical Marijuana Supporters Successfully Force Vote On Ban, But Officials Flout Suspension and Pledge To Crack Down

An initiative to repeal the two-month-old ban on medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles garnered enough verified signatures this week to force a vote on the issue, reaffirming the strong popular support for legalizing medical marijuana.

Officials told the Los Angeles Times last month that the immediate effect of certifying the referendum would be suspension of the ban, but just as the announcement came, the city attorney’s office pledged to continue cracking down on medical marijuana dispensaries. Although marijuana is prohibited under federal law, California passed a ballot initiative in 1996 to allow physicians to recommend marijuana to their patients for medical purposes. Since then, over 1,000 medical marijuana shops have sprung up across L.A., and the city council claims the sheer number of dispensaries has made them impossible to effectively regulate.

Also compromising the state law allowing medical marijuana are federal efforts to crack down on marijuana dispensaries, including the largest dispensary, Harborside Health Center, with locations in Oakland and San Jose, California.

Now that opponents of the ban have gathered enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, the city council can choose to proceed in one of three ways: it can repeal the ordinance or replace it with a different version, call a special election to vote on the issue, or put the measure on the March 5 ballot, when residents will vote on city officials.

Proponents of medical marijuana are holding protests today at 15 “Obama for America” offices in 8 states, seeking to elevate Obama’s harsh stance on medical marijuana as a campaign issue. According to Americans for Safe Access, the Obama Department of Justice has sought to enforce federal drug law by conducting more than 200 raids on medical marijuana businesses, even in states where these facilities are legal, and even as beneficiaries of medical marijuana have highlighted the needless harm imposed when dispensaries are shut down.

GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan has flip-flopped on support for medical marijuana, saying it’s up to the states to decide, before later changing his position to say that he “agrees with Mitt Romney that marijuana should never be legalized.” Romney has promised to fight marijuana legalization “tooth and nail.”