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Monday, May 6, 2013

CA Supreme Court: Marijuana Dispensaries Can Be Banned, But At Least They're Legal

Posted By on Mon, May 6, 2013 at 1:07 PM

It's still on
  • It's still on

At least one major roadbloack in the way of medical cannabis reform in California was removed Monday when the California Supreme Court issued a long-awaited ruling -- which says that cities and towns can ban pot clubs.

For now.

At least 200 places across the state -- including San Mateo County and the East Bay's tonier cities -- have not taken kindly to the state's medical marijuana scene and have banned pot clubs from doing business within their borders. And they are within their rights to do so, the court ruled on Monday. This means the Southern California dispensary that sought to overturn a ban in Riverside will be shut down, and other cities and counties could follow suit.

That might sound bad to cannabis advocates, however, the court did point out that medical cannabis dispensaries are perfectly legal in California -- which the Republican candidate for attorney general in 2010 would have disagreed with. What's more, "nothing" is stopping the Legislature or the electorate from going further and crafting a law that says bans aren't allowed, which is exactly what two state lawmakers are hard at work doing.

Lawmakers in Sacramento have tried -- and failed -- to reform medical marijuana before. A reason for the failure often cited was the pending decision in City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center. The Supreme Court's move was a prerequisite before a meaningful regulatory state framework could be crafted, the story went.

In its ruling, the Court said that the state's two major laws which allow the medical use and distribution of cannabis -- the 1996 Compassionate Use Act and the 2003 Medical Marijuana Program Act -- prohibit state and local law enforcement from upholding the laws that make marijuana illegal. These do not, however, stop local governments from putting laws on their books that declare medical marijuana dispensaries a nuisance, and drive them out of town, the court ruled.

This may sound bad, but it's at least mixed. And the Court may in fact be pushing the marijuana movement along. To wit:

"We have consistently maintained that the CUA and the MMP are but incremental steps toward freer access to medical marijuana, and the scope of these statutes is limited and circumscribed," the court wrote in its unanimous decision.

"[T]he CUA and the MMP are careful and limited forays into the subject of medical marijuana... [t]hey remove state-level criminal and civil sanctions from specified medical marijuana activities, but they do not establish a comprehensive state system of legalized medical marijuana; or grant a -- right‖ of convenient access to marijuana for medicinal use; or override the zoning, licensing, and police powers of local jurisdictions; or mandate local accommodation of medical marijuana cooperatives, collectives, or dispensaries."

"Of course, nothing prevents future efforts by the Legislature, or by the People, to adopt a different approach."

And that different approach is exactly what San Francisco lawmakers Assemblyman Tom Ammiano and state Sen. Mark Leno are aiming to do. Ammiano wants to put dispensaries under the regulatory authority of Alcoholic Beverage Control; Leno -- and state Sen. Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, one of Sacramento's heaviest hitters -- wants to affirm dispensaries' rights to take money for pot.

Recall, not too long ago, before she was Obama's best-looking Attorney General, Kamala Harris was runner-up to Steve Cooley -- a man who believed marijuana and marijuana sales were illegal. This decision maintains "the status quo," as Americans for Safe Access pointed out in a release Monday, but leaves the door wide open for things as they are to be changed.

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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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