L.A. city council votes to ban marijuana shops

A man walks past a medicinal marijuana dispensary in Los Angeles, Calif.

Jeff Horwich: California Senate Bill 420 established the state's medical marijuana program. Ten years later, Los Angeles has all other cities beat when it comes to pot dispensaries. But the city council has decided things are out of hand. The council last night unanimously banned all storefront medical marijuana shops.

To put the move in context, we've got Mark Kleiman, he's a professor of public policy at UCLA and author of Marijuana Legalization: What everyone needs to know. Good to talk with you.

Mark Kleiman: My pleasure. 

Horwich: Los Angeles has a lot of pot dispensaries, how big a deal is closing down 900 of them?

Kleiman: Certainly a big deal for those 900 businesses. Never clear to me that Los Angeles needed more dispensaries than the Netherlands has coffee shops. I don't know how much difference it will make given the odd geography of Los Angeles County. If it's unavailable in L.A., there's Santa Monica and Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, Compton, Inglewood and so on, so on, and so on. 

Horwich: The big picture policy issue here is of course California's policy, which is pulled in one direction and the federal policy which says that what California has been doing is, and here in Los Angeles what's been happening, is illegal. Where does this development sit in terms of that ongoing conflict?

Kleiman: Well, it's more complicated than that, part of the point that the city's attorney's office has been making is that even under California law these dispensaries are illegal because SB 420 provides for cooperatives and these are all for-profit businesses. Even under California law, it is not obvious that what they were doing was even slightly legal. You're right of course, it's illegal under federal law.

One of the problems that that sets up is that the more the state tries to regulate the business, the more entangled it gets, and the more likely it is that the feds step in. So the state could require that every dispensary be registered, but then the Federal government could subpoena the list of licensees and shut them down.

And that's going to be an even bigger problem in Oregon or Washington or Colorado with not medical, but full marijuana legalization this fall. If any of those passes, it will be a very, very interesting confrontation between the state and the federal government.

Horwich: UCLA policy professor Mark Kleiman, author of "Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know." Thanks for telling us some of what we need to know today.

Kleiman: My pleasure. 

About the author

Jeff Horwich is the interim host of Marketplace Morning Report and a sometime-Marketplace reporter.

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