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UCLA Study: Number of Pot Shops Less Than Half of City Estimates

City officials say they aren't surprised by findings that show far fewer dispensaries are in business than the number often cited.

The number of medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles is less than half the number often cited by city officials, according to a  study.

Bridget Freisthler, associate professor of social welfare at UCLA's Luskin School of Public Affairs, found there were 472 medical marijuana dispensaries in business as of Tuesday (Sept. 4).

City officials have regularly estimated the number of dispensaries at around 1,000.

Freisthler said it didn't surprise her that the number of open dispensaries was lower than the estimated number often cited by city officials.

"I thought there would be around 550," she said. [The 472 number is] a little lower than what I thought."

Freisthler is in the second year of a five-year study funded by the National Institute of Drug Abuse, examining how dispensaries impact neighborhoods.

"To be able to do that accurately, we had to get an accurate count of locations of all the dispensaries in L.A. City," she said.

Freisthler and her team of researchers combed through the city's finance list, Internet sources and trade publications to nail down addresses associated with possible dispensaries in the L.A. area. They found 875 unique locations, all of which researchers visited in the last month to determine if they were operating as medical marijuana dispensaries.

And though the team recorded 472 dispensaries in business, Freisthler said it's likely the number will fluctuate.

"Has the number changed as of today even? Probably," she said.

The city recently mailed out letters to 1,046 individuals or businesses notifying them of a "Gentle Ban" on medical marijuana storefronts approved by the City Council in July.

Assistant City Attorney Asha Greenberg said "It doesn’t surprise us" that the UCLA study has come up with a number at odds with the 1,046 on the list. 

Greenberg said the City’s list of dispensaries is based on the number of individuals who have contacted the City and registered with the Department of Finance as medical marijuana collectives or dispensaries, even though they may not actually have a functioning dispensary.

Those on the city's list who aren't operating storefronts "are trying to establish some kind of foothold, so to speak, and we never actually confirmed the physical presence of the dispensaries," Greenberg said. "We wanted the widest universe of people possible to be aware of the [Gentle Ban] ordinance."

Rick Coca, communications director for Councilmember José Huizar, said he’s perplexed by how the UCLA researchers "checked on all the dispensaries that are not on the City's radar."

Huizar’s office, which has been at the forefront of the City Council’s efforts to ban medical marijuana clinics, "gets calls all the time about new [marijuana] shops opening up," Coca said, adding that "even if those numbers hold up, our 2010 ordinance, which we modified in 2011, says there could only be 70 dispensaries. In 2011, we changed that number to 100—and if there are now nearly five times as much, that's a major problem."

Meanwhile, the City Attorney’s office has suspended the Gentle Ban ordinance in light of a petition containing some 50,000 signatures that advocates of medical marijuana storefronts presented to the City Clerk on Aug. 30 in an effort to repeal the ordinance.

In a letter sent on Wednesday, City Attorney Carmen Trutanich noted that the ordinance would not be enforced "throughout the time it will take for the City Clerk to verify the signatures on the referendum petition (estimated to be 15-45 days)."

On Thursday, City Clerk June Lagmay announced that the raw number of signatures on the petition was sufficient to examine and certify the signatures for validity.

The City Clerk's office has until Sept. 20 to do a random sampling of the signatures. If the sampling indicates the petition has the required number signatures, the Clerk will inform the City Council of its options: Repeal the ordinance; Call a special election to be held not earlier than 110 days or later than 140 days after the Council action on the petition; or add the ordinance to the next regular City election to be held more than 110 days from certification of the petition, which in this case would be the City's March 5, 2013, Primary Nominating Election.

While the battle over the ordinance is continuing, Councilmember Huizar told Patch on Tuesday that the Los Angeles Police Department would be conducting enforcement activities against marijuana clinics in accordance with state law that prohibits the sale of marijuana for profit and provides only for its cultivation or distribution through collectives of three or fewer individuals. Besides, said Huizar, a so-called “Sunset Clause” in the City’s previous ordinance does not recognize marijuana clinics as legitimate businesses under land use and other regulations.

Greenberg concurred with Huizar that if the LAPD chooses to shut down marijuana clinics, that would be "its own prerogative."

Barry Cullison September 07, 2012 at 04:36 AM
Propaganda. The major tool of people who do not have the facts on their side. Our puppet Huizar has more propaganda working on this issue than just the number of shops. He spouts misinformation for the money donations.
Mr. Jones' turtle September 07, 2012 at 07:34 AM
Aren't the insurance companies supposed to be non profit too??
Tim Ryder September 07, 2012 at 07:42 AM
You nailed it, Barry. It is a propaganda war and the prohibitionists like Huizar and his Eagle Rock lapdog, Michael Larsen, are losing thanks to the free internet and blogging media like the the Patch where their reefer madness lies can be dissected by us little people who don't profit from the enforcement of the 'drug war' and don't benefit from the violent black market they created
J.L. Capps September 07, 2012 at 02:19 PM
What's really killing med marijuana in Los Angeles??? Another broken campaign promise by our buddy Barack!!! Almost twice the number of mmj clinics have been shut down, raided or both in the last 3.5 years than in 8 years off repub rule! Dems want the power and repubs want the power at the state level, it's called the tenth amendment! Each state has the right to write and enact legislation based on its own citizens wants and needs!
J.L. Capps September 07, 2012 at 02:25 PM
And no mr turtle! Insurance companies by they're nature could not act as a non-profit. Also how much u want to bet if all the "I want something for nothing" bunch, stopped ripping off the insurers with fake claim after fake claim that OUR premiums as a society would plummet! It's the lazy u pay I don't want to types that are destroying this country, and also giving good honest people who use mmj a bad name! Btw mr turtle????? Do you work for a profit?????? Again I bet you do! It's only ok for OTHER people to work for free, just not you LOL GO FIGURE
Lorelei Shark September 07, 2012 at 03:21 PM
WOW - Greenberg concurred with Huizar that if the LAPD chooses to shut down marijuana clinics, that would be "its own prerogative." Since when is the LAPD a vigilante organization? Last we looked, we are still a government of the people. The people worked very hard to get petitions to stop Huizar's outright ban on collectives... yet this lowly councilman has the balls to put out there that the vigilante police, armed and on a mission, are going to close collectives. This is despite a statement from City Attorney Carmen Trutanich, that the ordinance would not be enforced "throughout the time it will take for the City Clerk to verify the signatures on the referendum petition... 15 to 45 days. What's going on in this country? The movement to snuff our freedoms is well on its way. Wake-up people - we are talking about freedom and law. When is it OK for our police to take the law into their own hands? NEVER!!!!
Rosie H-B September 07, 2012 at 03:33 PM
No one knows what they are doing. I drive exactly one mile from Whitsett and Moorpark in Studio City to Valley Village (Laurel and Burbank) and pass no less than 10 pot shops and 2 marijuana "doctors". It is completely out of control.
Sai Gordon September 07, 2012 at 04:13 PM
The Kush Money Boyz & The MMJ Dispensary Biz Come together to Defeat The Los Angeles Pot Shop Ban Live! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uSb9Vp9T9tk
Gipper's Ghost September 07, 2012 at 04:37 PM
NOt true my friend, when the medical Marijuana cases came before the US Supreme Court guiess wat the little GOP lapog right wingers pronounced.....weed is bad for the kids & as long as the Feds keep it illegals the states can suck my robe.. EXCEPT a true conservative who many on this issue likely don't like- Clarance Thomas, who ina dissenting opinion said the Fed Med MJ restrictions & raids on 'shops' was a violation of States' Rights!! I am not a big fan of his but he sticks to his guns. Scalia that piece of pompus poop said the Feds can regulate to protect society, as did other alleged 'conservatives' & democrat appointees. Weed has been demonized by old scholl propoganda & BS, it wsas legal till the 1920's but those blakcs & farmworkers smoked it, so it bad, bad, its reefer madness, right Nancy!
Gipper's Ghost September 07, 2012 at 04:46 PM
You work for the insdustry? Insurance Co. rip everyone off, they are out there to take your $ & deny claims, they are for PROFIT...its what they do, ALL claims are assumed bogus, they pay the CEO $25milion & charge 22+% adminstrative fees, medicare 2%, ripping off insurers BOO HOO they suck, they use your pemiums to fight YOUR claim, that why we ned bad faith laws, not tort reform BS....assuming so, what are you getting if you surrender a right to tort reform??? Don;t blame Obamacare either, my rates have gone up annually @ 10-20% or more for the past 5 years..........
Scott Zwartz September 07, 2012 at 05:46 PM
The corruption reflected in the lies about the number of Pot Shops is why some Angelenos are calling for a Federal Grand Jury to investigate the corruption at City Hall. The present focal pointfor the call for a Federal Grand Jury is the City's lies about its first responders' respones times when 911 is called. (HUNC's PLUM comittee passed a motion for HUNC's Bd to call for Federal Grand Jury. Monday, Sept 10, 6:30 a.m. at 1717 N. Van Ness, church auditorium ). The City knowingly lied to everyone in Jan 2011 in order to justify cutting $200 M from the LAFD budget so that Tony V and Garcetti, and Wesson etc. could continue to give hundreds of millions of tax dollars to corrupt developers in Hollywood, downtown, Mid-City and elsewhere. Of course, the City Atty Office is not surprised that the # of Pot Shop is about 60% less than the City procl;\aims. The City Atty Office also advised Garcetti not to press forward with the Hollywood Community Plan because it was based on fraudulent data. Garcetti ignored the City Atty's advice. continued
Scott Zwartz September 07, 2012 at 05:47 PM
The City Hall fraud is so vast that it touches all phases of the City government. That is why we need a Federal Grand Jury investigation into the City Hall corruption to ferret out who is being paid off to kill Pot Shops, to produce a bogus Hollywood Community Plan, to slash fire and paramedics, to give hundreds of millions to developers, to leave Animal Shelters understaffed, to downsize fire stations, to give $12.5 Million to a Chicago developer for land worth less than $1.67 M. Then there is the $67 M gift to a downtown hotel and the promise to give unspecified millions to private hotel owners to rehab their hotel (12-0493, April 2012). Just last month Superior Court Judge Jones ruled that the city lied and trampled on the public's due process rights by intentionally withholding vital data from an EIR. Now UCLA has documented yet another lie -- and like the one about fire and paramedic response times, the lies about Pot Shops can kill. There are many deathly ill people who cannot eat and cannot keep medicine in the stomach without marijuana. Without Pot, they die. Who benefits from closing Pot Shops? MS 13, White Fence and other drug gangs. Unless citizens from all over the city demand a Federal Grand Jury, matters will deteriorate.
Scott Zwartz September 07, 2012 at 05:49 PM
Do you also count the Rite Aids and Walgreens and the pharmacies in the supermarkets? Do your eally think that the recreational use will decrease when the citiens have to resort to buying from narco drug gangs?
Scott Zwartz September 07, 2012 at 05:50 PM
Tu tienes razon!
Shawn Richardson September 07, 2012 at 11:55 PM
Yes GG, but to what Capps is referring is actual fed raids on dispensaries. That number has gone up since Obama took office. Now there could be various reasons for that but that particular fact is not disputable. Now whether the Rs really want to limit federal power and transfer power to the states is a whole other discussion.
Ajay Singh (Editor) September 08, 2012 at 07:11 AM
Gipper's Ghost: This is not a forum for personal attacks. Your comment, in which a member of the City Council was called a "f00l" (no one's fooled by the use of two zeros) and the "Counsel" (sic) "a bunch of lazy, overpaid putz" has been deleted. You account will be suspended if you don't reign your invectives.
xnewfaces September 10, 2012 at 05:03 PM
"Who benefits from closing Pot Shops? MS 13, White Fence and other drug gangs." Let's not forget about residents that benefit.
Sam Humeid September 15, 2012 at 08:53 AM
What this study fails to take into account is, the sheer number of fraudulent cannabis dispensary operators who file for and open under "Miscellaneous retail sales" business tax certificates. These unscrupulous dispensary operators open their "Pot Shops" and then close at the first sign of trouble, only to reopen again the following week under a new name and new business license. At some points in the sordid history of medical cannabis in Los Angeles, upwards of a dozen dispensaries would be opened at the same time, on the same block, by the same person. Melrose Avenue a few years ago and North Hollywood, present day, are great examples of the charade and the failed communication between Los Angeles City Hall offices. However due to the nomadic nature of this business practice, not UCLA, LAPD or any other research body can truly ever get a real number of operating dispensaries in Los Angeles. Patients need to beware, ONLY SUPPORT GLACA accredited, (www.GLACA,net) or UFCW 770 unionized dispensaries. Otherwise your hard earned money might be going to go to the people who make the medical cannabis industry unbearable to city officials.
Ajay Singh (Editor) September 15, 2012 at 11:14 AM
Thanks for that insight, Sam Humeid. Could you elaborate on what is mean by "trouble" in this sentence?: "These unscrupulous dispensary operators open their "Pot Shops" and then close at the first sign of trouble ..."

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