Los Angeles voters can decide the fate of local medical marijuana collectives using their May 21 general election, but it’s an open question as to whether Angelenos will show up to vote.
L.A. ballot Measures D, E and F each offer different flavors of medical cannabis regulation in the largest—and most notoriously unregulated—MMJ city in the world. But voter turnout is expected to be no more than 21 percent of eligible voters.
That means the future face of medical marijuana in the sprawling city of 3.8 million will be left up to the politically active few, says Don Duncan, with patient lobby Americans for Safe Access, which is campaigning for Measure D. “We have to get out our votes,” he says.
Measure D would radically cut the number of L.A. collectives from an estimated 300-1,000 that are currently open down to about the 135 or so open prior to a 2007 moratorium.
Collectives would also have to follow a set of rules like moving away from schools and churches and paying a 6-percent sales tax. (MMJ sales in L.A. are currently taxed at 5 percent atop existing 9-percent state and local sales taxes).
Measure E would do the same as Measure D, but without the sales tax hike.
Measure F would not cap the number of L.A. collectives, but rather allow those that follow city rules to register in order of oldest to newest.
Offering one collective per 28,000 residents, “Measure D sort of puts a lid back on things,” Duncan says.
“We don’t know if it’s enough [collectives], but if it’s not either the City Council or the voters could go back and do another initiative,” he says.
Few are campaigning for Measure E, because its creators have thrown their support to Measure D. The City Council-crafted Measure D has the most mainstream support, including L.A.’s City Attorney, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, ASA, the Greater Los Angeles Collective Alliance and the local United Food and Commercial Workers Union.
Proponents of “Yes on Measure F” did not return requests for comment, but stated in the press that Measure D or E is a job and tax revenue-killer. Measure F also mandates cannabis safety testing, which the others do not.
But there’s plenty of evidence to indicate Los Angeles voters may reject all three measures.
Voter turnout was a “pathetic” 21 percent in the L.A. March primary, and is expected to be the same, says Karen O’Keefe, California policy director for the Marijuana Policy Project, the advocacy group that helped legalize cannabis in Colorado in 2012. None of the referendums’ supporters have released polls touting their measure’s impending success.
Deg’e Coutee with the small Patient Advocacy Network in Los Angeles, speaks for many who are saying, “Make it really simple for people. Just say ‘no, no, no’ to all the measures.”
Special interests who want to “squeeze other people out” bankrolled them all, she says.
MMJ activists will be able to sit down after the election with the city’s new mayor, city attorney and DA and, “we’ll be drafting something more reasonable, more fair and more transparent.”
The referendums are useless, she says, because if any measure wins, affected clubs will sue to stay open like they have in the past.
“It’s kind of the L.A. way, ‘Oh, of it passes, we’ll just sue ’em.’ You know?” Coutee says.
O’Keefe and Duncan say fresh lawsuits against a victorious Measure D would prove meritless. “All the provisions in Measure D have been tested in court,” Duncan adds.
WORST CASE SCENARIO
An even bigger police crackdown could hit L.A. if all measures fail, Duncan says.
Last fall, the City Council ordered the Police Department to work with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to shut down clubs. Raids are commonplace in the L.A. basin, and all the clubs in LAPD District 14—the Eagle Rock area—have been reportedly closed.
“In the absence of an ordinance all of the facilities will be deemed illegal,” Duncan says.
Still, “I don’t really see them doing a clean sweep of the city,” he says.
O’Keefe called a clean sweep “politically suicidal” for the City Council.
Instead, the status quo would likely remain. The police would keep playing a futile, decade-old game of whack-a-mole with the clubs. The largest MMJ city in the world would continue to be a black eye for the movement globally.
“The worst case scenario is not worse than what we have so far as the [public relations] goes,” Duncan adds.
Mayoral candidate Gil Garcetti is the front-runner to be elected the new mayor of L.A., many sources report. Garcetti has endorsed taxing and regulating recreational cannabis and should be elected, says O’Keefe. Opponent Wendy Greuel has been less supportive of cannabis law reform.
“You’re talking about electing the mayor who will preside over the biggest city in California when it legalizes adult use of marijuana in 2016. That’s huge,” O’Keefe says.
And all MMJ activists want patients to vote for Mike Feuer in the L.A. City Attorney’s race. Feuer is a tepid supporter of cannabis law reform, but his opponent, Carmen Trutanich, has been a thorn in the side of MMJ for years. City Attorney Trutanich argued all collective sales were illegal, and endorsed banning all L.A. clubs. O’Keefe, Coutee and Duncan called Feuer the lesser of two evils.
“We’ll see if the cannabis community realizes what’s going on and gets out and votes,” O’Keefe says.
The last day to register to vote is May 6.
Los Angeles voters need not feel they lack a sympathetic voice on the council. Councilman Bill Rosendahl, 76, is a cancer patient who has been very public about his use of cannabis to tackle his illness. In a recent Los Angeles Times story, Rosendahl—who has had 13 hits of radiation and seven rounds of combination chemo—praised a Westside collective for helping him. “The brain is back, the energy is back,” he told the Times. “Life is now worth living.”