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Thursday, August 23, 2012

California Supreme Court Dismisses Landmark Medical Marijuana Ban

Posted By on Thu, Aug 23, 2012 at 10:55 AM

Let's argue more
  • Let's argue more
The courts are a funny thing. A case that caused the sky to fall is six months ago is now being declared irrelevant.

A state appeals court case that some feared would cause all medical marijuana dispensaries in California to be banned back in January was dismissed without review on Wednesday by the California Supreme Court.

In the case of Pack v. City of Long Beach, a state appeals court ruled that no city or county in California could regulate medical marijuana dispensaries, since marijuana is illegal under federal law. Cities across the state used the ruling as an excuse to ban dispensaries. Even San Francisco got into the act, briefly suspending its landmark permitting ordinance.

The appeals court ruling was suspended while the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. A decision could have been forthcoming this fall. But in the interim, Long Beach banned dispensaries outright. That rendered the point of law the Supreme Court was to argue moot, and so the entire case was dismissed.

So who won? The game's not even close to over.

First, the irony: It was several would-be medical marijuana dispensary operators who inadvertantly caused the ban. Long Beach's former dispensary ordinance required operators to pay to participate in a lottery to determine who could open up a dispensary. Operators who lost in the lottery but still had to pay their fee sued, and in the Court of Appeals decision, the entire law was thrown out as federally illegal -- and in the ensuing decision, the appeals court said that all regulating laws were unlawful.

The Pack decision has had little impact in San Francisco or Oakland, where the 2005 Medical Cannabis Act remains in effect, and where the biggest threat to medical cannabis is the federal Justice Department.

In San Jose, the City Council declared all dispensaries unlawful, but meanwhile continues to collect local taxes from those dispensaries. Los Angeles has also chosen to ban dispensaries outright. Some attorneys argue that locally enacted dispensary bans -- in which cities essentially pick and choose which portions of state law they wish to allow their citizens to obey -- are unlawful as a result of the Supreme Court decision.

However, not everyone sees it that way. Remember, the bans came about as a result of the appeals court decision. An appeal of that decision was what the Supreme Court dismissed as moot.

The Supreme Court did declare the lower court's decision, which appeared pivotal at the time, "unpublished," a legal way of saying worthless. However, Long Beach City Attorney Robert Shannon maintains that the decision still carries weight -- though just in his town.

"Until they [the Supreme Court] rule on the right of a municipality to ban medical marijuana collectives, our ban will remain in place," Shannon told the Long Beach Press-Telegram.

The court is set to do just that in yet another case, City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patient's Health and Wellness Center.

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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.


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