Judge denies last-minute attempt to stop shutdown of LA pot dispensaries

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Hundreds of medical marijuana dispensaries must close by Monday or face possible civil fines or criminal charges because they don't comply with a new ordinance in Los Angeles.

Last-minute legal challenges from pot shop owners and patients seeking temporary restraining orders were denied Friday by Superior Court Judge James Chalfant, paving the way for officials to enforce the long-awaited law that will slash the number of dispensaries to somewhere between 70 and 130.

It remains to be seen whether dispensary owners will comply.

Last month, the city attorney's office mailed more than 430 letters to pot collectives, saying the operations must close by June 7.

So far, the agency has not received any calls from owners indicating they plan on shutting down. The only calls have come from landlords indicating businesses have closed or will no longer be open come Monday.

"We definitely get the sense they don't want to go away," Assistant City Attorney Asha Greenberg said of the dispensaries. "They are engaging in a lucrative business. Who is going to want to walk away from that without a fight?"

Judge Chalfant rejected requests to stop the ordinance from going into effect, but there were still unresolved issues from a host of lawsuits, including whether it's discriminatory to allow some dispensaries to stay open while shuttering others.

"The patients who are being discriminated against are not going away," said attorney Eric Shevin, who represents a group of patients who claim their access to medical marijuana would be severely restricted under the ordinance.

Hundreds of pot shops cropped up across Los Angeles in the past several years, as the City Council wrestled with creating an ordinance with strict guidelines.

Dispensaries that registered before a 2007 moratorium can stay open if they adhere to the new guidelines, which include being 1,000 feet from schools, parks and other public gathering sites. The dispensaries also must pay more than $1,000 in administrative fees.

Violating the ordinance could result in six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. A daily penalty of $2,500 also could be assessed for every day a non-qualified collective remained open after Monday.

Felony criminal charges could be filed if it's shown that dispensaries were profiting by selling pot, which District Attorney Steve Cooley says violates state law. The city ordinance, however, does provide for cash reimbursements for pot sales.

Greenberg said the city will decide what course to take once police tally how many dispensaries defy the law by remaining open. Criminal charges are more likely if a large number of pot shops try to stay in business, she said.

"In two weeks we'll have a better idea of the numbers we are dealing with and the direction our prosecution will take, and whether Los Angeles will be a lot better," Greenberg said.