Pot, Politics And Profits: L.A.’s Marijuana Collectives Take Sides Over Competing Ballot Measures

Pot, Politics And Profits: L.A.'s Marijuana Collectives Take Sides Over Competing Ballot Measures

Things were getting a tad bit ugly in LA last week, as supporters from clashing medical marijuana collective measures, set to be voted on in a May 21, special election, fired up their angry accusation.

Protection of their own financial interest seems to be the common thread from at least two of the camps as they began pointing the finger at each other. Claiming that the other measures were merely a smoke screen…and not truly designed to protect L.A.’s mmj patients, kids or public.

Dozens of medical marijuana activists rallied outside Los Angeles City Hall last week, declaring war on an enemy.

Their target was not the federal government, whose agents raided several local dispensaries in recent days, or neighborhood groups trying to shut down the city’s estimated 700 pot shops.

The enemy was fellow medical marijuana advocates.

Three competing measures on the May 21 city ballot have divided L.A.’s lucrative medical cannabis industry, with each side accusing the other of trying only to protect profits, not do what is best for patients.

The measures may appear similar to the uninitiated, but they would greatly benefit different groups of pot businesses.

Yami Bolanos, who runs PureLife Alternative Wellness Center, is backing Proposition D, which would shrink the number of pot shops to about 130. Only dispensaries like Bolanos’, which opened before the adoption of a failed 2007 city moratorium on new shops, would be allowed to continue operating.

At the City Hall rally and news conference, Bolanos accused some newer shops of catering to drug dealers by not requiring doctor’s prescriptions and selling more than 8 ounces of marijuana per visit to customers, more than twice what her store allows.

“Who needs 8 ounces, unless you’re going to break it up into dime bags and sell it in the street?” she said.

Proposition D is backed by the Los Angeles County Democratic Club and by a labor union that has organized workers at dozens of older dispensaries. The measure was placed on the ballot by the City Council to counter two measures that qualified through the initiative process.

One of those initiatives, Measure F [] would place no limit on the number of pot shops but would require them to submit to city audits, test cannabis for toxins and keep a certain distance from schools, parks and other dispensaries. It is being pushed by a coalition of shops that opened after the 2007 moratorium. Like Proposition D, it would increase taxes on pot sales.

A third measure, Initiative Ordinance E, would permit only the older shops but would not raise taxes. It was put on the ballot by a group of older shops and the dispensary employees union, but that coalition has shifted its support to the council-backed Proposition D.

The measure with the most votes will win, but only if it receives more than 50% of the vote. If none of the three receives majority approval, they all fail.

With the election a month away, the competing camps are collecting campaign cash and stepping up attacks. An anti-Proposition D website warns that the initiative would create a monopoly for older shops and the rise of “pot superstores.” By forcing existing dispensaries to close, “Proposition D encourages building massive marijuana drug centers that could greatly increase crime for nearby residents,” the site says.

Grace Moore, who opened Grace Medical Marijuana Pharmacy in 2009, said she is fighting Proposition D because market forces, not government, should determine the number of dispensaries. “The good will succeed, and the places that are not so nice, people will not frequent,” she said.

At her Pico Boulevard shop, customers are offered strains of pot like Purple Cush and Blue Dream, as well as “Yes on Measure F” wristbands.