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Los Angeles’ Measure D: An Industry Matures

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Is it too soon to hope that the snickering will end?

One theme of our coverage of the marijuana industry has been to make it clear that dispensaries are an industry and should exist. They employ L.A. residents, they have suppliers and customers, they pay rents and taxes. Like it or not, this industry is here to stay; it is not a sideshow, and it deserves some respect. With the preliminary results from Tuesday’s election, it seems that voters embraced the notion.

At the time of this writing on Wednesday morning, it appears that Los Angeles passed Measure D by a margin of more than 25 percentage points. More people voted for Measure D than voted for either mayoral candidate. Measure D was put on the ballot by the City Council, and was backed by a set of dispensaries, as well as the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which represents workers at dozens of dispensaries. Measure F – which was backed by other, newer dispensaries – appears to have lost, 59-41. (Measure E became an orphan when its backers switched support to Measure D after a compromise, and lost 65-35.)

This marks a milestone in the maturation of the industry. California first legalized medical marijuana  in 1996, leaving it to local governments to devise regulatory schema. Some cities embraced their roles while others chose to do nothing, leaving dispensaries in a sort of limbo. L.A. took the latter path, not enacting regulation until 2007. By that time, however, the business had grown out of control. There were “more dispensaries than Starbucks” in the city, alarmists liked to point out. But while raw numbers of pot shops are not wholly relevant, having meaningful standards for the industry are: The city should be able to ensure that patients are getting safe medicine, that workers are protected, and that local communities are not unduly impacted. Measure D does precisely these things.

This is at least the third attempt at regulation in the city, and it seems we’ve finally gotten it right. In 2007 efforts yielded an interim control ordinance, with a loophole big enough to allow (reportedly) hundreds of dispensaries to continue to open in the following years. That led to a backlash, taking the form of a complete ban on dispensaries, passed by the City Council in 2012. (The ban was rescinded in the face of an impending voter repeal.) If 2007 threw the doors wide open, and 2012 slammed them shut entirely, 2013’s Measure D may have found the right balance: 135 dispensaries will stay open, and will have to submit to meaningful regulation.

It is important to recognize that this success happened because the parties came together to jointly develop a solution. Residents needed to ensure that quality of life was not diminished. Workers needed to ensure that they would continue to have jobs – and that the jobs would be good ones. Patients needed access to medicine. And dispensaries needed to keep their doors open. It seems deceptively simple, but you’re more likely to develop a winning approach when you bring all stakeholders to the table, and when all stakeholders are open to compromise.

The hope now is that we can get past the battles – driven by neighborhood councils that have felt besieged – over whether or not this industry should exist at all. The next phase of the industry’s development will not be an easy one, as the city figures out how to implement and enforce Measure D. Absolutists on both sides won’t be satisfied, but they never will be. But for the first time in a while, the city is on the right track.

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