California Medical Marijuana Industry Dealt Blow
On May 6, 2013, the California Supreme Court ruled unanimously that local municipalities can legally ban medical marijuana dispensaries from doing business in its communities. This was the ruling in City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patient's Health and Wellness Center, which dealt with whether the California constitution would trump the provisions of California’s medical marijuana laws.
The California constitution gives cities the zoning power to dictate land use within their borders, which would allow them to declare businesses a "public nuisance" and toss them out. This is what happened to the Inland Empire dispensary in Riverside. The Court’s ruling said that California's medical marijuana laws "merely declare that the conduct they describe cannot lead to arrest or conviction, or be abated as a nuisance, as violations of enumerated provisions of the Health and Safety Code."
The Supreme Court opinion said "the plain language of the CUA and the MMP is limited in scope. It grants specified persons and groups, when engaged in specified conduct, immunity from prosecution under specified state criminal and nuisance laws pertaining to marijuana. ... The CUA makes no mention of medical marijuana cooperatives, collectives, or dispensaries. It merely provides that state laws against the possession and cultivation of marijuana shall not apply to a qualified patient, or the patient's designated primary caregiver, who possesses or cultivates marijuana for the patient's personal medical use upon a physician's recommendation."
"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," Justice Marvin Baxter wrote for the seven-member court.
"The issue in this case is whether California's medical marijuana statutes pre-empt a local ban on facilities that distribute medical marijuana," the unanimous opinion said. "We conclude they do not."
As dispensaries have sprouted up uncontrollably since 1996, when California’s medical marijuana laws took effect, many municipalities have prohibited dispensaries from opening within their city limits by the use of zoning laws. It is estimated that more than 200 California municipalities have banned medical marijuana storefronts, and that only about 50 localities have actually adopted local regulations that govern the medical marijuana business.
Some dispensary owners, patients and medical marijuana advocates have argued that these local laws violated the state medical marijuana laws by reducing patients’ access to marijuana. However the Supreme Court cleared up the issue in its ruling. Pretty much confirming, that while the state medical marijuana laws allow patients access and relief from prosecution for the possession and cultivation of marijuana for qualified patients, it does not dictate whether a community has to allow medical marijuana businesses or not.
What this means, is if you are a qualified medical marijuana patient, if you live in a municipality that bans medical marijuana businesses, your alternatives appear to be (1) travel to a community that allows medical marijuana businesses; (2) grow your own; or (3) buy from the black market. California, the state that was once the forefront of marijuana legalization, appears to be taking a steps backwards, at least in the short term.