L.A. Marijuana Dispensary Crackdown Coming?

By Caleb Groos on October 12, 2009 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Los Angeles County and City officials say that they plan to crack down on medical marijuana dispensaries selling pot over-the-counter. The move resembles recent crackdowns in San Diego, with law enforcement targeting marijuana dispensaries they claim are illegally operating for profit.

Recently, we discussed San Diego's attempt to crack down on medical marijuana dispensaries which they argue violate California law by operating for profit. As mentioned, California law allows for patients and care-givers to "associate within the State of California in order collectively or cooperatively to cultivate marijuana for medical purposes."

Los Angeles has seen a boom in marijuana dispensaries unlike that in any other California city. This can largely be attributed to an ill-defined "hardship exemption" which allowed many dispensaries to set up shop (supposedly more than 600 new dispensaries after a 2007 moratorium meant to limit the number of licensed dispensaries, which then numbered 186).

The California Attorney General's guidelines on enforcing medical marijuana laws conclude that only medical marijuana cooperatives or collectives are allowed -- and that medical marijuana cannot be cultivated or distributed for profit.

As reported by the L.A. Times, Los Angeles officials appear to have a similar reading of California law. According to L.A. County's District Attorney, "[t]he vast, vast, vast majority, about 100%, of dispensaries in Los Angeles County and the city are operating illegally, they are dealing marijuana illegally, according to our theory."

The L.A. County District Attorney and the L.A. City District Attorney argue that all over-the-counter medical marijuana sales violate California law. (Though perhaps an overly simplistic reading of how medical marijuana collectives or cooperatives might legally function, there is little argument that many dispensaries have not paid strict attention to the rule against operating for profit.)

The L.A. Times reports an estimate of over 800 dispensaries in the city of Los Angeles -- the vast majority of which began operating after a 2007 moratorium on new dispensaries went into effect.

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