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By Emily Alpert Reyes, Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — More than 450 medical marijuana dispensaries have filed renewals to pay Los Angeles business taxes this year — more than three times as many as are allowed to stay open under the city’s Proposition D.

The new numbers won’t settle the debate over exactly how many medical marijuana dispensaries are now operating in Los Angeles. Additional pot shops may be open but have fallen delinquent on their taxes. Some may have never registered to pay taxes.

But the numbers provide the latest hint at what has happened after Los Angeles voters passed new rules attempting to restrict which medical marijuana dispensaries can operate — and how — across the city.

Before Proposition D passed last spring, police estimated there were roughly 700 dispensaries, though others pegged the number much higher. Fewer than 140 medical marijuana dispensaries are eligible to stay open under the new rules, according to city estimates.

Earlier this year, City Attorney Mike Feuer announced that more than 100 pot shops had shut down since the new rules went into effect. But when reporters asked Feuer exactly how many medical marijuana collectives were still operating in its city limits, the city attorney said he had no way of knowing.

Tax records have offered one clue: More than 1,100 medical marijuana collectives are actively registered to pay business tax in Los Angeles, according to figures released earlier this year by the city finance office. The Greater Los Angeles Collective Alliance, a voluntary association of medical marijuana collectives, estimates that when duplicate registrations are excluded, that number falls below 900.

However, it’s unclear if that many medical marijuana dispensaries are actually operating in Los Angeles. A business may obtain a registration certificate but never actually open. It might also close but fail to notify the city. On the flip side, some pot shops might have never registered to pay taxes.

The newly released numbers offer another hint at how many medical marijuana businesses are currently operating: After registering, Los Angeles businesses must file an annual renewal to report their taxable gross receipts. So far this year, 457 medical marijuana collectives have filed a renewal, according to Office of Finance General Manager Antoinette Christovale.

Feuer said it was still impossible to know for sure how many pot shops were open but heralded the new figures as “a sign of continued progress.” The numbers are much lower than estimates of the number of medical marijuana businesses open before Proposition D, Feuer said Tuesday.

“My impression overall is that fewer are operating now,” said Don Duncan, the California director of Americans for Safe Access, which advocates for safe, legal access to cannabis for therapeutic use. “But it’s so hard to quantify.”

Others questioned whether the tax renewals are a good measure of how many shops are open. “People are aware that they’re being targeted for enforcement and they’re refusing to renew,” said David Welch, an attorney who represents clients in the medical marijuana industry. “I don’t think it should be used as an indication that medical marijuana collectives are closing down.”

The city has continued to register new medical marijuana collectives to pay business taxes. Earlier this year, the Office of Finance reported that after the new law went into effect, it had registered nearly 200 pot shops with no previous records in the tax system; Feuer has warned shops that “if they’ve opened for the first time since 2013, they can’t be lawful under Proposition D and … are subject to prosecution.”

Under Proposition D, medical marijuana dispensaries and the landlords who lease space to them can be prosecuted if the shops don’t meet several requirements, including being registered under past Los Angeles ordinances and being located the required distance from public parks, schools and other facilities.

Photo: KayVee.INC via Flickr

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Eric Holder

The failure of major federal voting rights legislation in the Senate has left civil rights advocates saying they are determined to keep fighting—including by suing in battleground states. But the little bipartisan consensus that exists on election reform would, at best, lead to much narrower legislation that is unlikely to address state-level GOP efforts now targeting Democratic blocs.

“This is the loss of a battle, but it is not necessarily the loss of a war, and this war will go on,” Eric Holder, the former U.S. attorney general and Democrat, told MSNBC, saying that he and the Democratic Party will be suing in states where state constitutions protect voting rights. “This fight for voting rights and voter protection and for our democracy will continue.”

“The stakes are too important to give up now,” said Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which for years has operated an Election Day hotline to help people vote. “Our country cannot claim to be free while allowing states to legislate away that freedom at will.”

In recent weeks, as it became clear that the Senate was not going to change its rules to allow the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to pass with a simple majority, there have been efforts by some lawmakers, election policy experts, and civil rights advocates to identify what election reforms could pass the Senate.

“There are several areas… where I think there could be bipartisan consensus,” said David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, in a briefing on January 20. “These areas are all around those guardrails of democracy. They are all about ensuring that however the voters speak that their voice is heard… and cannot be subverted by anyone in the post-election process.”

Becker cited updating the 1887 Electoral Count Act, which addressed the process where state-based slates of presidential electors are accepted by Congress. (In recent weeks, new evidence has surfaced showing that Donald Trump’s supporters tried to present Congress with forged certificates as part of an effort to disrupt ratifying the results on January 6, 2021.) Updating that law could also include clarifying which state officials have final authority in elections and setting out clear timetables for challenging election results in federal court after Election Day.

Five centrist Washington-based think tanks issued a report on January 20, Prioritizing Achievable Federal Election Reform, which suggested federal legislation could codify practices now used by nearly three-quarters of the states. Those include requiring voters to present ID, offering at least a week of early voting, allowing all voters to request a mailed-out ballot, and allowing states to start processing returned absentee ballots a week before Election Day.

But the report, which heavily drew on a task force of 29 state and local election officials from 20 states convened by Washington’s Bipartisan Policy Center, was notable in what it did not include, such as restoring the major enforcement section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was removed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013. It did not mention the Electoral Count Act nor growing threats to election officials from Trump supporters.

“This won’t satisfy all supporters of the Freedom to Vote Act, but this is a plausible & serious package of reforms to make elections more accessible and secure that could attract bipartisan support,” tweeted Charles Stewart III, a political scientist and director of the MIT Election Data and Science Lab. “A good starting point.”

The reason the centrist recommendations won’t satisfy civil rights advocates is that many of the most troubling developments since the 2020 election would likely remain.

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