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CA Supreme Court: Local Gov's Can Ban Marijuana Dispensaries

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(Sacramento, CA)
Monday, May 6, 2013

The California Supreme Court today ruled unanimously that local cities and counties have the right to ban the distribution of medical marijuana within their borders.

The ruling stems from a case involving Riverside. A local dispensary was told it was violating city zoning laws and had to shut down. The dispensary then challenged the city in court. 

The League of California Cities backed Riverside in the case. Executive Director Chris McKenzie says this is an issue of local control.

"Cities can decide whether they want none, whether they want a few, whether they want many. We are concerned if cities can't decide that," McKenzie says.

California voters approved the Compassionate Use Act known as Proposition 215 in 1996, and the legislature passed additional guidelines in 2003. The Court ruled that these laws exist to remove some barriers to medical marijuana, but that they are limited in scope and do not "grant a right of convenient access to marijuana for medicinal use." The Court found these laws do not preempt local bans on medical marijuana dispensaries.

The ruling was disappointing to Don Duncan, the California Director of Americans for Safe Access. But he tried to stay positive.

"I think the silver lining from the Supreme Court decision is that they do refer to dispensaries as legal businesses, which I hope will be reassuring to people," Duncan says. "And they also call on the state legislature to do something about this issue. So that's a big step forward." 

Lawmakers are already responding to the challenege to take action. Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, a supporter of medical marijuana, says he has one bill pending and is looking to introduce more. 

"I think that we can fashion something that will patients have access to medical cannabis wherever they live," he says. "That's what the voters wanted when they passed 215."

Read the full decision here. It's the first case listed.

Supporter of Sacramento County Ordinance Praises Decision
By: Capital Public Radio staff

Sacramento County's medical marijuana ordinance is one of those that could be affected by Monday's ruling.  It doesn't specifically ban dispensaries - but it does ban land use activities prohibited by either state or federal law.  Medical marijuana is illegal under federal law. 

Supervisor Roberta MacGlashan voted for that ordinance about a year and a half ago.  She says at the time of the county's vote, 10 dispensaries were operating near each other in one unincorporated Sacramento County community.  "It was a very difficult time for the residents for Orangevale and the businesses," MacGlashan recalls.  "So we were able to get these closed under our current ordinance.  And now we can look forward to keeping that situation the way it is."

MacGlashan says she's "pleased" with what she calls the court's "momentous decision."  But she says it's hard for individual cities and counties to deal with the inconsistency in state and federal law. 

The supervisor spoke with Capital Public Radio Insight host Beth Ruyak.  You can hear the full interview Tuesday at 10am.

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