LA Marijuana Dispensaries Get Reprieve as Medical Cannabis Referendum Qualifies for Ballot

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The medical marijuana community in Los Angeles has successfully staved off a bid by the city to ban all cannabis dispensaries, at least for now.

On Monday, the City Clerk’s Office announced that supporters of a measure to overturn the ban collected enough valid signatures to force a referendum on the issue. The city now has three options: let voters decide the fate of the ban in the March 5 local elections, call for a separate, special election or completely repeal the ban.

The future is looking considerably brighter than it did just a few weeks ago, when many dispensaries were preparing to shut down after the Los Angeles City Council passed the ban over fears that the industry had grown out of control.

The future of MMJ in Los Angeles, however, is still in doubt. Locals could side with the city and vote to instate the ban if the issue does end up on the ballot. Alternatively, the city could modify its ban to exempt older dispensaries, which would still force hundreds of centers to close. And then there’s the more immediate threat from the city attorney, who is vowing to crack down on the industry despite the challenges to the ban.

At the very least, dispensaries now have a fighting chance of survival and can continue operating for at least a few months. And no matter what happens, the delay represents a victory for the medical cannabis industry in the face of some steep challenges. The effort to fight the ban was impressive, given that organizers had just a few days to collect the 27,425 valid signatures needed to force a referendum. In fact, they collected nearly double the number needed, and city election officials confirmed that roughly 49,000 were valid – a notably high percentage for an MMJ initiative (in similar cases as many as 50% of signatures have been deemed invalid).

Various sides of the industry teamed up in the effort, including a union representing dispensary workers, MMJ center owners and marijuana activists. This offers a textbook example of how the industry can rally to trigger political change.