August 17, 2012 / 9:15 PM / 7 years ago

Group sues to block Los Angeles ban on medical marijuana shops

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A group of medical marijuana patients sued the city of Los Angeles on Friday, seeking to block a citywide ban that would shut down most of its storefront pot dispensaries in three weeks.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of 11 patients by the nonprofit Patient Care Alliance Los Angeles trade association, says users are protected by California’s 1996 legalization of medical marijuana and a constitutional right to freedom of assembly.

“The medical marijuana center of the globe is L.A. just as much as the movie capital of the globe is L.A.,” Marc O’Hara, Patient Care Alliance executive director, said after filing the lawsuit in Los Angeles County Superior Court. “There are more dispensaries here than in the rest of the country.”

City leaders, who passed an ordinance banning the dispensaries by a 14-0 vote in July, have sought for years to control the dispensaries amid complaints that they supply recreational users under the guise of medicine and serve as a magnet for street crime.

“Relief is coming in the form of having a more focused and intense crackdown on these dispensaries that cause problems in our neighborhoods,” Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar, who authored the ordinance, said in July. “If we try to move forward to regulate (storefronts), we will fail. It would be an exercise in futility.”

A spokesman for Huizar could not immediately be reached for comment. A spokeswoman for Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who supports the ban, declined to comment on the lawsuit.

City officials estimate there are some 750 registered dispensaries in Los Angeles and as many as 200 more without proper registration, dwarfing any other California city.

California became the first U.S. state to decriminalize medical marijuana in 1996 and was followed by 16 other states and the District of Columbia. But the law has caused friction with federal authorities.

State rules governing the distribution of medical marijuana remain fuzzy, and cannabis is still classified under U.S. law as an illegal narcotic, with no exemption provided for health reasons.

Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Dan Grebler

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