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LA makes first move in process of closing hundreds of pot shops

A man walks past a medicinal marijuana dispensary in Los Angeles,CA on November 2, 2010.
Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images
A man walks past a medicinal marijuana dispensary in Los Angeles,CA on November 2, 2010.

Hundreds of Los Angeles pot shop owners have been told to shut down their operations, in a letter from Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich mailed this week.

"We are advised that a medical marijuana business may be operating at the above referenced address," the letter states. "The operation of this business and use of the property as a medical marijuana business is unlawful."

The letter follows the Los Angeles City Council’s approval of an ordinance prohibiting medical marijuana dispensaries in L.A., which goes into effect Sept. 6. The law stemmed from complaints by neighborhood activists and police that pot shops were increasing crime and creating nuisances.

The ordinance defines a medical marijuana business, in part, as: Any location where marijuana is cultivated, processed, distributed, delivered or given away to a qualified patient, a person with an identification card, or a primary caregiver.

As the letter states, the City Council excluded marijuana cultivation by a maximum of three qualified patients and licensed health care facilities.

Employees, volunteers and landlords renting to pot shops are subject to legal action including six months in jail and a $1,000 fine, according to the letter. Owners could face fines of $2,500 per day.

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck has said police raids aren't happening any time soon. The letters are meant to obtain voluntary compliance.

Some pot shop owners have said they have no intention of closing and instead plan to place a referendum before voters that would legalize medical marijuana dispensaries again. They argue the ban will make it harder for cancer patients and others to obtain medicine that helps with appetite and relieves pain.

Interestingly, Trutanich said in his letter some pot shops could have stayed open, if they had agreed to settle an earlier lawsuit.

"The city spent nine months in settlement discussions with the dispensary litigants and the court," he said. "We are not able to share the content of those confidential discussions, but we can tell you that we did not achieve settlement, which would have exempted ... a number of regulated collectives."

"The unresolved and continuing legal impasse has been accompanied by a massive proliferation of unregulated dispensaries in the city, leaving the city with only one clear legal option — to recognize compassionate access, but prohibit medical marijuana businesses within the city."

Medical marijuana patients can still go to neighboring cities that allow pot shops, including West Hollywood, which has three shops.

DA Carmen Trutanich's Marijuana Business Ban Letter