California Supreme Court to Address Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

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After the federal government’s large-scale crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries throughout 2011 and 2012, the California Supreme Court will now revisit the issue to determine the legality of counties banning dispensaries. Tweet this:

On February 5, the California Supreme Court will hear arguments regarding this issue, which the Legislature has yet to define state laws or pass beneficial regulations.

Though many cities in the state currently have operational dispensaries, several others have seen mass closures. Since no concrete regulation has been set at the state level, local governments are taking on this issue; trying to decide whether dispensaries should be allowed in their prospective counties.

If the court upholds the bans of local governments, it is extremely likely that many more will follow suit.

Since the passage of Proposition 215 in 1996, the Compassionate Use Act, several cities around the state have remained in limbo. Each city typically takes one of four approaches to dispensaries: dispensary bans, dispensary moratoriums, dispensary regulation ordinances, or the choice to have no local regulation of medical marijuana.

In May 2009, the United States Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of a California state appellate court ruling upholding Proposition 215. The appellate court ruled that California had the ability to decide the criminality of medical marijuana in the state, regardless of federal law.

Since President Obama took office, his administration has closed “more than two hundred” state-approved medical marijuana dispensaries. Last May, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) rebuked the administration for their continued closure of the facilities, saying:

“I have strong concerns about the recent actions by the federal government that threaten the safe access of medicinal marijuana to alleviate the suffering of patients in California, and undermine a policy that has been in place under which the federal government did not pursue individuals whose actions complied with state laws providing for medicinal marijuana.”

In San Diego, newly elected Mayor Bob Filner ordered, through a series of memos, the San Diego Police Department’s “targeted code enforcement” against dispensaries be halted immediately.

Current city zoning ordinances do not allow legal areas for dispensaries. San Diego City Council, however, adopted a special “marijuana zoning ordinance,” but subsequently dropped it in July 2011. Under the guidance of city attorney Jan Goldsmith, more than one hundred dispensaries were closed throughout the city.

In response to medical marijuana activists, Americans for Safe Access (ASA), Filner requested that Goldsmith not pursue remaining active cases related to this issue, which Goldsmith agreed to do. Filner, a Democrat, takes a different approach to the issue than his Republican predecessor, Jerry Sanders, who widely supported Goldsmith’s “targeted action.” Tweet this:

With the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington, nationwide discourse on the topic has leaned towards a more progressive approach. The California Supreme Court’s ruling should ultimately provide a consensus on dispensaries throughout the state.