Medical marijuana won Wednesday night—at least in Studio City.
Within just a few miles of this Los Angeles suburb there are more places to buy pot than there are and combined.
After a two-hour lively and passionate discussion among about 60 people that included testimonies from medical marijuana users, an assistant city attorney and pot shop owners, the rejected the idea of supporting a proposed citywide “gentle ban” of the dispensaries.
The Council voted four in favor, five against and one abstention to show support of a law being considered by the Los Angeles City Council that would prohibit all medical marijuana businesses citywide, but does not ban access to medical marijuana by patients who need it.
“Clearly this is a very difficult and emotional issue,” said Council President John Walker, who abstained from the vote.
The North Hollywood Division of the Los Angeles Police Department has seen the marijuana distribution sites, and even the SCNC’s new Crime and Safety Chairman Richard Adams was against the proposal.
“I urge you to ‘Just say No’ to this political power grab and listen to the citizens who have already voted on this,” Adams said.
The special board meeting was called by Vice President Lisa Sarkin after compiling complaints from neighbors and businesses in the area over the past few months. In the short time she had been collecting information about the marijuana dispensaries along Ventura Boulevard, two more opened up—including one where she could smell marijuana from her house across the Los Angeles River. She took photos and visited 13 shops in Studio City.
“I smelled pot at every location but one,” Sarkin said. She said she saw one patient drop a joint in the street and saw a carload of youths passing around a joint behind another dispensary. “I went to college in the ‘60s, I know what pot smells like.”
Sarkin noted that three dispensaries are within 600 feet of , and four are along paths taken by children walking to Carpenter and Dixie Canyon Elementary School. She said she is also concerned that there are not many regulations on the businesses, and that most of them have signs and murals that violate the Ventura Boulevard Specific Plan that is supposed to preserve the unique business district.
Special Assistant City Attorney Jane Usher said more than 70 lawsuits are pending against the city because of their attempts at regulating the businesses. She said the proposed by the city, and the existing ordinance will never be implemented.
“We are also dealing with federal law saying that you can’t sell it, and they are going up and down the state shutting them down,” Usher said. “We came up with an ordinance that tried to regulate them and it’s one that we can’t enforce. Our ordinance will never work—ever.”
Usher said her office prefers to “get out of the avalanche of lawsuits” brought on by the marijuana distributors, costing a conservative estimate of $5 million so far.
Usher said the Los Angeles proposal is “cutting edge” compared to the more than 90 other cities in the state that banned pot shops outright. The Los Angeles City Council wants to be sensitive to patients who need medical marijuana so although businesses would be banned, any cardholding patient or primary caregiver can grow their own or go to a licensed healthcare facility.
“Now is the time to clear the slate and start all over again,” Usher said.
Not according to Calvin Frye, who opened up his low-key shop in a mini-mall at 12457 Ventura Blvd. with just the letters “CCSC” on the front (standing for ). Frye said he has been working with the city officials through the Americans for Safe Access to no avail.
“If you close us you will open up a window for the illegal sale of drugs,” Frye said. “Look at those of us who have been discrete in the neighborhood. Letting us be will not cause Armageddon.”
Tommy Smalls has worked as a security guard for ) since 2009 and said, “Right now we provide patients safe access. If you ban them they will be selling in the back alleys.”
Studio City resident and local actor , who used to write tried to show himself as a regular user. “I’m just a regular human being who pays rent and is looking for work.”
Warden’s friend, Jeffrey Melinovitz the owner of and a pointed out that sick people cannot properly grow their own pot. He said, “If those of you who eat vegetables had to grow your own vegetables, some of you would starve. Do you want marijuana growing in the yard next door?”
Melinovitz said it could cost $4,000 to $8,000 to start a proper marijuana-growing site.
Growing his own weed is impossible for patient David Lizama, who has a painful degenerative joint disease.
“I can’t stand up for very long. I need something to face the darkness of my day,” Lizama said. “I’ve never grown marijuana, I’m not a gardener. Your solution is to make me suffer.”
Another user, Sara Diesel, said, “I am not a 25-year-old male that you hear frequent these stores. I’m a 32-year-old female, and I am just like anyone else.” She said she has anxiety and depression and “I work four jobs. I can’t grow my own—it’s a terrible decision.”
Not according to pharmacist Lloyd Hitt from the Sunland-Tujunga Neighborhood Council, who said he also counted 13 pot shops in his area, and Cindy Cleghorn, from the same council board, said she was glad that Studio City took quick action to look into the issue.
“I want to thank the Studio City Neighborhood Council for your leadership role on this issue,” Cleghorn said.
Richard Neiderberg, who seconded the motion made by Sarkin and voted for it, said, “This plan is better than nothing.”
Board member and local pharmacist, , said she also went to every pot shop in Studio City, and saw no one smoking and smelled no marijuana except at one place.
“I do not want to regulate this so that our pharmacy has to sell this,” said Welvang, who voted against the motion. “I worked in hospice and saw what people had to do to get this, it was not nice. Give these people a chance to do what they need to do.”
Board member , who said he “reluctantly voted against the motion,” said he was troubled with the vagueness of the motion and the “gentle ban” plan. “I would like to see that these dispensaries are not like cigar stores where people come to smoke.”
Fellow board member Jeffrey Carter said bluntly, “This is not a gentle ban, it is a ban. There’s no other way to get this material. I recommend we not adopt this.”
Sarkin said she was concerned that many businesses within the vicinity of the marijuana dispensaries are suffering because people don’t want to bring children nearby, there is a smell, and sometimes customers coming out are rude.
“You have to think who else is being affected by this,” Sarkin said.
For example, manager Patrick Crotty said the marijuana dispensary next door has a scent of pot wafting into their store. It affects their wine-tasting events, and he said has hurt their business.
Board member Gail Steinberg, who voted for the proposal, said, “This is a very very difficult situation, but we’re trying to get some structure in Studio City. We need to have some guidelines.”
After the vote turning down the “gentle ban,” Dave Warden said after the meeting that he was surprised about the vote. “It’s a little step at a time, maybe they will realize we’re doing something good for people.”