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California Supreme Court Rules Local Governments Can Ban Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

(Photo: Wikipedia)

(Photo: Wikipedia)

The California Supreme Court ruled on Monday that local governments can legally ban medical marijuana dispensaries from operating within their jurisdictions.

The state’s highest court ruled unanimously in City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patient’s Health and Wellness Center that California cities and counties can ban dispensaries because state medical marijuana law does not preempt local authority to regulate the distribution of medical marijuana within local borders. Under the state constitution, municipalities are empowered to declare businesses a “public nuisance” and shut them down, the court ruled.

“While several California cities and counties allow medical marijuana facilities, it may not be reasonable to expect every community to do so,” the court ruled. “While some counties and cities might consider themselves well suited to accommodating medical marijuana dispensaries, conditions in other communities might lead to the reasonable decision that such facilities within their borders, even if carefully sited, well managed and closely monitored, would present unacceptable local risks and burdens.”

At issue in this particular case was a legal challenge to a ban on dispensaries enacted by the city of Riverside in 2010. Lower courts had sided with the city, ruling that no part of the state’s Compassionate Use Act (CUA) or Medical Marijuana Program (MMP) barred municipalities from banning dispensaries within their borders.

“Nothing in the CUA or the MMP expressly or impliedly limits the inherent authority of a local jurisdiction, by its own ordinances, to regulate the use of its land, including the authority to provide that facilities for the distribution of medical marijuana will not be permitted to operate within its borders,” the court’s decision states.

The medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access estimates that around 200 jurisdictions throughout California have banned medical marijuana dispensaries. In Riverside, city officials used their zoning authority to ban dispensaries as public nuisances.

Medical marijuana advocates expressed their disappointment at the court’s ruling.

“The unfortunate result of this decision is to leave many needy patients without legal access to medical marijuana in their communities, thereby promoting illegal black market suppliers,” Dale Gieringer of California NORML remarked. “It is time for the state and federal governments to step up to the plate and fulfill the mandate of Prop. 215 to implement a system of ‘safe and affordable’ access for all patients in medical need.”

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