Los Angeles Bans Already-Banned Dispensaries in Unincorporated Areas

Some medical marijuana dispensaries operating in Los Angeles County could soon be forced to shut down due to a new ordinance that makes it absolutely illegal for property owners to rent space to these types of businesses.

The Los Angeles Board of Supervisors voted 4 to 0 on Tuesday in favor of adopting an ordinance intended to bring clarity to the guts of an existing ban that makes it illegal for landlords to enter into rental or leasing agreements with the medical marijuana community. 

Although it has been illegal to open a medical marijuana business in unincorporated areas for several years, a lack of enforcement and overall unawareness of the law has given way to many pot shops emerging in restricted neighborhoods, including Marina Del Ray and East L.A. Meanwhile, some unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County have issued special condition permits that permit a specific number of dispensaries to operate.

Unfortunately, the board's latest decision will likely force these businesses to move or close. 

An unincorporated area is defined as a geographic location that operates without its own municipal services. These jurisdictions are governed more in terms of a small community, where a town council works with the powers of the county to decide neighborhood policies.

For the past several months, Supervisors Michael Antonovich and Hilda Solis have been working on a measure that reinforces the ban on dispensaries in unincorporated areas, going as far as to propose the creation of a Medical Marijuana Dispensary Enforcement Team comprised of officials from within the Department of Regional Planning, the Sheriff’s Department, and the Offices of the County Counsel, District Attorney and Treasurer-Tax Collector.

“A streamlined Medical Marijuana Dispensary Enforcement Team will speed up our effort to shut down and prosecute illegal marijuana dispensaries,” Antonovich told the Daily News. “These illegal operations have routinely attracted a criminal element that threaten community safety and disrupt neighborhoods.” 

In all actuality, the heat has been on for potentially hundreds of landlords across the county since 2011. Property owners found guilty of violating the existing ban have been subject to some rather extreme penalties—including property forfeiture.

In 2013, a landlord by the name of Tony Jalali rented one of his Anaheim office spaces to a medical marijuana dispensary, only to find out, much to his surprise, that renting the space to a marijuana dispensary in a city that hosts “the world’s biggest marijuana festival,” was considered illegal.

After an undercover agent purchased a small amount of weed from the illegally zoned dispensary, the federal government notified Jalali of its intention to seize his entire office complex for failing to comply with the local ordinance. A report from The Los Angeles Times shows there were around 30 civil forfeiture cases against Southern California landlords for renting to dispensaries during that time. The article suggests that the 2011 ordinance spurred an explosion of civil forfeiture activity.

The latest decision by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has medical marijuana advocates up in arms. Many argue that forcing these operations to close will be detrimental to patients who rely on their neighborhood dispensaries for access to cannabis treatment.

“Medical marijuana dispensaries are legal. The county decided to ban them. I didn’t agree with that decision because people need to access these prescribed drugs in their neighborhoods if they can,” Supervisor Sheila Kuehl told City News Service. “Every city or piece of the county that bans them makes it less possible for people with glaucoma, with chronic pain, people living with AIDS who rely on these prescriptions to get them.”

However, legal experts say that many of the dispensaries currently on the chopping block would have been forced to close eventually because of the state’s new regulatory system on the medical marijuana industry.

An article published last year by the Brooke Law Group entitled “Unincorporated Areas May Not Permit Medical Marijuana Businesses” reveals that in spite of the board's decision to pass the reiterating ordinance, California’s newly passed Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act may have forced many of these dispensaries to shut down in the next few years. According to the piece, medical marijuana businesses will be required to show they have been given legal permission to operate in a city or unincorporated area before qualifying for a state license.

“It is advisable to make certain your business is legally located if you intend to progress in the medical marijuana industry of the future,” the article reads. 

(Photo Courtesy of Next Shark)

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