California Supreme Court Upholds Cities' Right to Ban Pot Clubs

Jay Brockman
Note to states considering medical marijuana measures: Don't forget to include a statute forcing cities and counties to enact zoning laws that will allow storefront dispensaries to operate.

Without something like that, your clubs are going to get shut down.

In a ruling issued this morning, the California Supreme Court ruled that neither the 1996 Compassionate Use Act (also known as Proposition 215) nor 2003's Medical Marijuana Program Act (affectionate dubbed SB420) prevent cities and counties from banning cannabis clubs.

The ruling pretty much spells the end of the medical marijuana industry in California as we know it. Then again, ever since the Obama administration began cracking down on dispensaries in November 2011 (two years after signaling that intervening in states that had passed 420-friendly laws would be a "low" priority) the feds have been shutting down so many clubs the cities don't have much left over to ban.

The ruling stems from a civil case brought against the city of Riverside by the Inland Empire Patients Health & Wellness Center after city officials issued the club an injunction against distributing marijuana, which it claimed violated the city's zoning laws. The club, in turn, filed a lawsuit against Riverside arguing that the city's ban on marijuana dispensaries violated state law. In its unanimous ruling, the Supreme Court tossed out that claim.

"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 justices ruled. "They 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."

"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 justices continued. "We must therefore reject defendants' preemption argument, and must affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeal."

Translation: all the CUA and MM do is prevent police from charging you with a crime under state law as long as you obey it. (By the way: somebody please explain that to the Los Angeles District Attorney, which currently plans to re-prosecute Joe BGrumbine and Joe Byron for selling pot after their first convictions were tossed out because of judicial misconduct).

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