California Medical Marijuana Ban: State Supreme Court Hears the Case

Our Los Angeles marijuana lawyers, along with many others invested in medical marijuana rights, have been closely following the developments of The City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center, which has just been heard by the California Supreme Court. balance.jpg

The outcome of this case could prove pivotal because it addresses a dispensary’s inherent right to exist. Not only have these operations been aggressively targeted by federal prosecutors, they have been forced to shudder their storefronts amid local bans that made no concessions whatsoever to state law.

The main question here is whether local government leaders have the authority to ban medical marijuana dispensaries.

The reason this is especially important is because lower court decisions have been a crazy patchwork of conflicting opinions. Part of California’s troubles stem from the fact that this state pioneered the medical marijuana movement nearly 20 years ago with the passage of the Compassionate Use Act. However, we had no blue print to follow. We had to draft our own.

Other states in which dispensaries have been more easily able to fly under the federal radar had the benefit of observing us – what worked and what didn’t.

Those who are close to this issue are hoping for uniformity and clarity – and most importantly, an affirmation of the rights of dispensaries to lawfully operate and provide a valuable service to sick people without fear of harassment or persecution.

Many dispensary owners are not opposed to local regulation – they might actually welcome it, provided that regulation doesn’t include an outright ban. State law is quite vague, and it tends to give a lot of authority to local governments. So when local authorities set the boundaries and clearly define the terms, dispensary operators can be more at ease in knowing everything is above-board and legitimate.

The problem with banning these facilities outright is that, based on the action already taken, it would leave patients in huge swaths in the middle and southern part of the state without access to their medicine. These are individuals who are often coping with conditions who we are going to ask to drive hours and hours just to pick up a prescription? That’s neither reasonable nor compassionate – and it’s not in the spirit of the law that California voters passed.

But this disparity, if upheld, could not be entirely blamed on local government leaders. Federal prosecutors have made threats of criminal charges and applied pressure to elected local leaders who established some regulatory framework. Prosecutors reasoned this was akin to approving the violation of federal law, under which marijuana is still illegal.

Still, owners and patients are not giving up their fight. In this case, Inland Empire was ordered by Riverside city leaders to close shop three years ago. It refused. The city filed a complaint and a local judge granted the city’s request for an injunction, a decision that was upheld in 2011 by an appellate court.

Now, it’s up to the Supreme Court justices. Let’s hope they can cut through the rhetoric and reach a decision that makes good sense and clears much of the confusion.

The Los Angeles CANNABIS LAW Group represents growers, dispensaries, collectives, patients and those facing marijuana charges. Call us at 714-937-2050.

Additional Resources:
California Medical Marijuana Ban: State Supreme Court Weighs Future Of Cannabis Clubs, Feb. 5, 2013, By Aaron Sankin, The Huffington Post
More Blog Entries:
Marijuana Dispensary Bans to be Weighed Soon by California Supreme Court, Jan. 25, 2013, Los Angeles Marijuana Lawyer Blog