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Thursday, February 7, 2013

If Medical Marijuana Dispensary Ban Is Overturned, You Can Thank An Escort Service

Posted By on Thu, Feb 7, 2013 at 7:00 AM

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In this world, we're blessed and cursed with things; things we want but can't get, things we want but can't have. In California, of course, we can have most things -- except when we want to have a medical marijuana dispensary in Daly City, Danville, or any of the other estimated 200 cities and towns that decided legal medical cannabis isn't for them.

This week, the California Supreme Court took up arguably the biggest issue currently affecting California's legal pot situation: the bans on legal dispensaries. What's most interesting is what legal precedent just might save dispensaries from outright bans. If the bans are overturned, you have escort services to thank.

Let's backup for a minute: Cities and counties can ban things, of course -- but not entirely. Zoning ordinances allow, say, airports to be banned from residential areas, and off-road motorcycle race courses to be banned from open space districts. But there's no storefront commercial use that we can think of -- and we looked -- that is banned outright by a city or county without any conditional use provisions or some accommodation.

Except for medical marijuana dispensaries.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court heard arguments in City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patients and Wellness Center. Riverside, in its infinite wisdom, decided that medical marijuana dispensaries are a nuisance and banned them from within its borders; Inland Empire, a dispensary, thinks otherwise but has thus far fared poorly in court, with the Supremes its last legal stop in California available.

At issue is the question of "regulation." Of course cities and counties may regulate some permitted land use, such as designating glass factories as best suited for the sand dunes away from Main Street, or escort services -- which are legal -- are best suited away from schools.

But a ban is not a regulation, lawyers for Inland Empire argue. "Local government may not prohibit what is permitted by state law (not even under the guise of land use regulation), they may only regulate the conduct," they wrote in their 31-page brief submitted to the court before Tuesday's hearing at the University of San Francisco. They used the example, from San Francisco, no less, that a state-legal use -- in this case, an escort service -- can't be banned, only regulated under local law.

Will it work? The judges have 90 days to issue their decision to uphold or end the bans.

San Francisco at least benefits from the ban on medical marijuana dispensaries in Daly City and much of San Mateo County: The dispensaries along Mission Street in the Outer Mission and on Ocean Avenue are some of the city's busiest, because Peninsula residents seeking medical cannabis have nowhere else to go. So in that way, bans might be a good thing ... for profit margins. Just like overall prohibition.

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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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