Closing Time for Medical Pot Dispensaries

The city attorney's office says it will start by gathering information about who is complying

Hundreds of medical marijuana dispensaries face a deadline Monday, but questions remain about how exactly that deadline will be enforced.

More than 400 dispensaries are under orders to close in accordance with the city's news medical marijuana ordinance. Eventually, the city hopes to whittle the number of pot shops down to 70  and to limit outlets to industrial areas.

Some estimates peg the number of medical marijuana dispensaries  operating last summer in Los Angeles at 1,000. City officials said hundreds were not registered.

Dispensaries that opened before the city declared a moratorium on Nov.  13, 2007, will be allowed to stay open but, within six months, they will have  to comply with the ordinance, which has a strict zoning component.

Fines for violators are expected to run as high as $2,500 per day. Penalties also could include jail time.

The City Attorney's Office sent letters last month to the operators of  about 400 dispensaries, ordering them to close by today.

"The sky isn't going to fall down," Asha Greenberg, assistant city attorney, told National Public Radio. "LAPD isn't going to go around kicking down doors, etc. Initially we're going to be doing information gathering."

City officials said they won't take any action until they count how many of them have defied the new ordinance. Authorities said they will spend about two weeks finding out which clinics aren't in compliance.

"All of us who chose to play by the rules as laid down by the city have been waiting years for this day,'' marijuana collective owner Joao Silverstein told The Associated Press.

Last week, a judge dismissed last-minute legal challenges from pot shop owners and patients seeking temporary restraining orders to keep those shops open. That decision allowed officials to enforce a long-awaited law that will slash the number of dispensaries to somewhere between 70 and 130.

Owners and patients have filed more than 20 lawsuits over the ordinance. They argue it restricts access to medicine.

Stewart Richlin, a lawyer who represents 10 dispensaries that filed lawsuits, told the LA Times that he expects many will remain open Monday.

Sean Cardillo opened the Kush Clubhouse and Medical Kush Beach Club in Venice. He told the Times he plans to close the Clubhouse, for now. As for the Beach Club, it's legally registered but located near a residential building -- too close under the ordinance.

That facility would have to move within six months.

"I don't want to do anything to disrespect the city," Cardillo told the Times. "I'm not in this to do anything illegal."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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