LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles politicians have struggled for more than five years to regulate medical marijuana, trying to balance the needs of the sick against neighborhood concerns that pot shops attract crime.
Voters will head to the polls Tuesday to decide how Los Angeles should handle its high with three competing measures that seek to either limit the number of dispensaries or allow new ones to open and join an estimated several hundred others that currently operate.
Election Day in the nation's second-largest city comes just two weeks after a pivotal state Supreme Court decision gave cities and counties the authority to ban pot shops. More than 200 local municipalities have bans, and some cities that were awaiting guidance from the state's highest court have taken immediate action this month and begun shuttering clinics.
While some cities have been able to manage pot collectives, Los Angeles fumbled with the issue and dispensaries cropped up across the city as a result. Councilman Ed Reyes said Los Angeles has run into trouble where other cities such as Oakland haven't because of the sheer size of L.A. and a movement that is more organized and litigious.
"The pie is so big here, so thick and rich, that we have many people making a run at it," Reyes said.
City councilors passed an ordinance in 2010 to cut the number of shops from roughly 1,000 to 70. But numerous lawsuits were filed against the city by dispensaries and the ordinance was allowed to expire last year, leading to another surge of pot shops.
Last summer, the city approved a ban, but two months later repealed it after enough signatures were gathered to get the measures on the ballot.
Proposition D would cap the number of collectives that opened before 2007 — about 135 — and raise taxes slightly; Proposition E also would do the same but raise no new taxes; Proposition F wouldn't limit the number of pot shops but would put stringent controls such as audits and background checks on employees. It also raises taxes.
The proposition with the most votes wins, but only if it collects a majority. If none of the measures receives more than 50 percent, the issue could bounce back to the City Council.
"There's been absolutely no control, and that's what has hurt the city," said Brennan Thicke, who runs a pot clinic called the Venice Beach Care Center. "At this point, voters need to finally decide this issue. There's been an overwhelming belief in this city that medical marijuana should not go away."
Regardless of the election's outcome, dispensary owners still are under the specter of the federal government, which maintains marijuana is illegal and has raided clinics, prosecuted owners and filed lawsuits against landlords.