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Los Angeles residents will go to the polls May 21 for a decision that could spell more trouble for besieged medical marijuana dispensaries. Voters will choose between different models for regulating dispensaries in the city, and the choice will have a major impact on patients and providers for years to come.

There are three regulatory measure on the ballot: Ordinance D, Ordinance E and Ordinance F. Each imposes different rules on dispensaries and subjects them to different tax levies.

The measures are a compromise approach following a short-lived attempt by the Los Angeles City Council to ban dispensaries last year. That ban, which would only have allowed patients to grow medical pot in groups of three, was rescinded by the council just a few months after its enactment when it became clear voters would do the same by referendum.

Now, in response to concerns over the rapid growth in the number of dispensaries, the city will impose new regulations instead. Voters will choose what those regulations will be. And some recent polling suggests they may go with the most restrictive of the three options.

Ordinance D the most limiting of the measures, would restrict the number of legal dispensaries in the city to 135, the number that existed when L.A. imposed a moratorium in 2007. The nearly 2,000 dispensaries that have since opened in neighborhoods across the city would be forced to close.

Ordinance F, on the other hand, would impose no such restriction. It would, however, enforce background checks on dispensary volunteers as well as staff, and it would bar minors from entering stores. Both measures D and F would hike dispensary taxes by 20 percent, to $60 from $50 per $1,000 on gross earnings.

Ordinance E, on the other hand, is something of a bureaucratic quirk. Like Ordinance D, it would limit the number of dispensaries to 135. But unlike D and F, it contains no tax increase. It also has almost no support. It was introduced by the United Food and Commercial Workers union, but they withdrew their backing and got behind Ordinance D instead.

A recent poll by the backers of that measure found that 52 percent of L.A. voters are leaning toward it and its heavier restrictions. Even the campaign strategist for Ordinance F told L.A. Weekly the other campaign was “ahead by more.”

That may be in part because D is simply lower in the alphabet and thus usually mentioned first in polls. Voters may not be fully aware of how sweeping the effect of the ordinance would be, closing the vast majority of the city’s dispensaries.

It’s impossible to know how many patients will be affected by the new regulations, given California’s complex patchwork of patient registration rules. But it will likely be thousands, especially if more storefronts are closed and dispensaries are limited to just a few neighborhoods.

L.A. may soon join San Francisco as a city where residents overwhelmingly support medical marijuana but local regulations make it increasingly difficult to find. It all depends on what voters do May 21.

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About the Author: Matt Brooks

Matt is a journalist from San Francisco who has specialized in marijuana policy for more than six years.

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