LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles politicians have struggled for more than five years to regulate medical marijuana, trying to balance the needs of the sick against neighborhood concerns that pot shops attract crime.
Voters will head to the polls Tuesday to decide how Los Angeles should handle its high with three competing measures that seek to either limit the number of dispensaries or allow new ones to open and join an estimated several hundred others that currently operate.
Election Day in the nation’s second-largest city comes just two weeks after a pivotal state Supreme Court decision gave cities and counties the authority to ban pot shops. More than 200 local municipalities have bans, and some cities that were awaiting guidance from the state’s highest court have taken immediate action this month and begun shuttering clinics.
While some cities have been able to manage pot collectives, Los Angeles fumbled with the issue and dispensaries cropped up across the city as a result. Councilman Ed Reyes said Los Angeles has run into trouble where other cities such as Oakland haven’t because of the sheer size of LA and a movement that is more organized and litigious.
“The pie is so big here, so thick and rich, that we have many people making a run at it,” Reyes said. “Regardless of which measure you support, the city is going to have to focus on enforcement. I think as long as we don’t have enforcement, it’s just letters on paper.”
City councilors passed an ordinance in 2010 to cut the number of shops from roughly 1,000 to 70. But numerous lawsuits were filed against the city by dispensaries and the ordinance was allowed to expire last year, leading to another surge of pot shops.
Last summer, the city approved a ban, but two months later repealed it after enough signatures were gathered to get the measures on the ballot.