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Medical marijuana initiative qualifies for Los Angeles ballot (correction)

Neon sign at a medical marijuana clinic
Neon sign at a medical marijuana clinic
Caveman 92223 via Flickr

The city clerk in Los Angeles Wednesday said a medical marijuana initiative had gathered the necessary 41,138 signatures to qualify for the May ballot.

The initiative would permit only the medical marijuana dispensaries that existed before the city’s 2007 moratorium – or about 100 pot shops. Many in the organized medical marijuana community, including the Greater Los Angeles Collective Alliance and Americans for Safe Access, back this measure.

“The Los Angeles City Council can put politics and bickering aside and adopt an ordinance instead, like this initiative," said Yami Bolanos, president of the GLACA. "It’s time to finally do the right thing for the patients of Los Angeles.” 

Significantly, this measure also has the support of the powerful United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which wants to organize pot shop workers.

“Our initiative will guarantee safe access to medical cannabis for those suffering from debilitating and painful diseases and conditions, while at the same time enforcing the rule of law and protecting neighborhoods," said Rick Icaza, President of UFCW Local 770. 

The union, GLACA, and other medical marijuana groups are part of the Committee to Protect Patients and Neighborhoods – the group that sponsored the initiative. Icaza urged the City Council to adopt the initiative rather than place it on the ballot, which the council can do.

But the City Council, which has struggled to regulate dispensaries for years, has been working on a new ordinance. In addition, it may consider a second initiative if it qualifies for the ballot.

It would allow most of the city’s hundreds of pot shops to remain open, as long as they abide by certain regulations. Those regulations include operating a certain distance away from schools and parks and requiring operators to undergo background checks.

The initiatives come as the federal government is in the midst of a crackdown on L.A. area pot shops. The local U.S. Attorney has issued more than 70 cease and desist orders and has threatened to issue more.

It’s unclear whether the Obama Administration will continue with that strategy as political winds change. Voters in the states of Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana in November.

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that a second initiative had qualified for the May ballot. In fact, the City Clerk's Office has until Jan. 15 to verify that measure.