In front of a crowd of passionate medical marijuana supporters, the Los Angeles City Council voted Tuesday to ban pot shops, with council members saying they had grown out of control.
The council voted unanimously in favor of a "hard ban" backed by Councilman Jose Huizar.
Council members also voted 9-5 in favor of crafting a future exception for 182 existing shops that would subject to new restrictions; if approved in a future vote, that ordinance could take months to go into effect.
"We've had this explosion of dispensaries that are completely uncontrolled," said Councilman Paul Krekorian, who supported Huizar's ban (PDF). "The status quo is absolutely broken."
Krekorian noted that exceptions to the "hard ban" will allow small-scale growing at homes with three or fewer "qualified patients," as well as permitting medical marijuana at hospices and licensed clinics or home-health agencies.
The city needs to "make medical marijuana available to those who need it … but protect the quality of life in our neighborhoods. I think this approach will do that," Krekorian added.
The council voted on two separate proposals: Huizar's "hard ban"; and a modified plan from Councilman Paul Koretz that would allow a limited number of shops to continue to operate.
There are currently has more than 850 pot shops in Los Angeles, according to city documents. The dispensaries were allowed after state voters in 1996 passed Proposition 215 permitting medical marijuana use.
Huizar called for support for his ban by pointing to confusion about how authorities should enforce existing law.
"LAPD has been asking us for clarity," Huizar said.
Koretz's motion, which received nine votes and passed, could allow 182 shops that were properly registered with the city under a 2007 "interim control ordinance" to keep operating. Koretz had referred to his plan as a "soft ban" or "gentle ban," which supporters said would allow "compassion" for medical marijuana patients.
The council voted to ask city staff to craft an ordinance implementing Koretz's proposal and subject the proposal to a state-required environmental review process. It's not certain when that ordinance would return to the council for a future vote.
In the meantime, it's unclear what enforcement actions the city will pursue against existing shops – properly registered or not. Huizar's ban could go into effect in a matter of weeks.
The votes came after hours of debate, including a closed session where the council discussed an ongoing lawsuit related to medical marijuana restrictions.
Koretz initially voted against the hard ban, making the tally 13-1. But he changed his vote afterward, saying he wanted the unanimous vote to hasten the ordinance's going into effect, according to his spokesman.
Pot shop supporters inside council chambers yelled out during and after the council votes.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who had been reticent on the issue, came out Tuesday in favor of a total ban, according to the Los Angeles Times. City Attorney Carmen Trutanich and Police Chief Charlie Beck backed the ban as well.
NOTE: This story originally said the council voted 13-1 in favor of the ban; it has been changed to reflect the fact that Koretz changed his vote from "no" to "yes."