Council members also approved a motion to consider future exemptions that may allow dozens of dispensaries opened before the 2007 moratorium to stay in business.
Advocates say there are hundreds of thousands of medical marijuana users within the Los Angeles city limits. Under the ban, they can cultivate or share cannabis in groups of three or fewer people. The city plan will let hospices, home health care agencies and primary caregivers provide marijuana to sick people who have a doctor's recommendation. It's not clear who would grow that marijuana.
"That will never work," said Brian Berens, whose Westside Green Oasis successfully sued the city to stay in business in 2009 and has no intention of closing now. "Nobody in their right mind for or against marijuana can think that is the right way to go."
Brennan Thicke of the Venice Beach Care Center dispensary said the plan means his 500 regular patrons would have to form 167 marijuana-growing groups, spending $4,000 or more each for lights and indoor gardens and driving landlords crazy with wiring and irrigation.
Councilman Dennis Zine, who championed the city's 2010 dispensary ordinance, wonders whether Los Angeles can succeed in its latest attempt to rein in its teeming cannabis industry.
"Whichever way we go," Zine said, "there will be another cycle of lawsuits."
The city's latest efforts come amid continuing confusion over the rights of local governments and marijuana providers. While medical marijuana has been legal in the state since 1996, state legislators have provided only vague guidelines on how it can be distributed.
The state Supreme Court is reviewing four cases involving conflicting local ordinances in cities that have sought to license or ban dispensaries.
Meanwhile, California's four U.S. attorneys charge that marijuana outlets are profiteering in violation of both federal and state laws. In counties across the state, including Sacramento, U.S. authorities have raided dispensaries or scared hundreds out of existence with letters threatening landlords with prosecution.
Both Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley and City Attorney Carmen Trutanich have taken aggressive stances, declaring that all marijuana sales at dispensaries are illegal.
But that didn't stop the downtown Vermont Caregivers from staging its "grand opening" in July, offering a "premium joint + bong" with purchase of an ounce of pot.
Nor did it dissuade the MedStar dispensary from opening recently on Melrose Boulevard in a storefront adorned with a rainbowed-colored mosiac of cannabis leaves, medical crosses and glistening stars.
Danielle Noah, MedStar's assistant manager, said marijuana stores are woven into the tapestry of Los Angeles "and it's completely unrealistic to try to put a ban on it."