Activists also are in the early stages of planning a ballot initiative that would legalize the recreational use of marijuana and regulate it like alcohol, as voters in Washington and Colorado did last year.
Although California is believed by advocates and law enforcement agencies to have had thousands of dispensaries a few years ago, the number has dropped significantly as communities and federal authorities have cracked down. However, counting with any precision is impossible because record-keeping varies from community to community, many dispensaries do not advertise, and no overall state total is kept.
Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, and the U.S. attorneys have threatened to seize the property of landlords who lease space to the shops. Hundreds of dispensary operators have since been evicted or closed voluntarily.
Riverside city lawmakers used their zoning authority to declare storefront pot shops as public nuisances and ban the operations in 2010. The Inland Empire Patient's Health and Wellness Center, part of the explosion of retail medical marijuana outlets, sued to stop the city from shutting it down.
Larry Swerdlow, a nurse who co-founded the Inland Empire center and a neighboring clinic where people can obtain recommendations to use marijuana, said Monday that banning dispensaries would force residents to get the drug on the street. He also pledged to keep fighting.
"I kind of look at the gay community. I mean, they had lost all these elections on gay marriage, 40 states and this kind of stuff, but they didn't give up," Swerdlow said as medical marijuana activists gathered at the state Capitol to lobby lawmakers on the two proposed bills. "We're not going to give up either."
Medical marijuana supporters in several cities, including San Diego, San Jose and Los Angeles, have stopped officials from either outlawing or limiting pot shops by threatening to overturn them with voter referendums.
Associated Press writer Juliet Williams in Sacramento contributed to this story.