The war against medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles continues.
Last month, federal prosecutors sent letters to more than 100 pot shops in L.A. County ordering them to shut down or face criminal charges. They also started proceedings to seize two clinics in Long Beach.
The threats targeted 103 dispensaries throughout the county, including 71 in the city — in South L.A., downtown and the Harbor division. The letters informed dispensary owners they were violating federal laws.
In addition to threatening prosecution, the letters stated that the government would seize the property of clinics that remained open. The shops include every remaining dispensary in the Newton, Rampart and Harbor divisions, plus 26 in Long Beach and four in Antelope Valley.
The feds’ actions are part of a large-scale effort to squelch dispensaries everywhere in California. It comes even as communities across the state, including L.A., are either banning or tightly restricting pot clinics.
California voters approved medical marijuana in a referendum in 1996, but the law was vague in some areas. The federal government, which views all marijuana as illegal, has said it believes voters intended to allow patients to grow pot in small collectives, nothing more.
At the same time the feds crack down using threat of prosecution, local officials are using equally tough tactics to make it impossible for clinics to operate. Since 2007, cities, towns and counties across California have enacted bans and regulations intended to drive cannabis dispensaries away.
Most of those bans were poorly enforced for several years, while lawsuits made their way through court. But in May, the California Supreme Court ruled that municipalities may regulate dispensaries out of business. Since then, more than 80 percent of the state has banned them.
L.A. tried that approach last year, but quickly reversed course. Instead the city turned to regulation, the approach favored by other liberal holdouts such as Oakland and San Francisco.
The issue was put to a vote in May, and L.A. residents chose a regulatory scheme that caps the number of clinics at 135, down from recent levels of about 1,000. The city recently released a list of the dispensaries allowed to survive and begun stamping out the rest, threatened them with asset seizure and prosecution if they don’t close.
These forces have left the city with a fast-dwindling number of medical pot shops. And they’ve left many patients with a dwindling number of options – particularly patients in lower-income neighborhoods with limited transportation.
Some dispensaries may choose to remain open in defiance of the orders, as has happened in the past. Others may pursue the issue in court. But as things stand, their chances look grim. The landscape of L.A.’s medical marijuana dispensary industry is changing rapidly, and it may never look the same again.