The California Supreme Court ruled Monday morning that local governments have the right to ban medical marijuana dispensary storefronts, a decision that for now upholds the nearly 200 bans in effect statewide, including one in Long Beach that went into effect last year.
In a unanimous decision on the case City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center, Inc., et al., the state’s high court said that cities and counties have the right to restrict dispensaries, rejecting multiple lower-court rulings that sided with marijuana advocates who argued that bans are in violation of California’s medical marijuana statute, including the 1996 Compassionate Use Act that protects patients and primary caregivers from prosecution for use, possession, transportation and cultivation of cannabis when its use has been approved by a physician.
“Nothing in the (1996 law) 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,” Justice Marvin Baxter wrote for the court, according to the San Jose Mercury News.
The ruling has major implications not only for other California cities looking to enact similar bans, but also for the dozen or so lawsuits that are currently being waged against the City of Long Beach. Previously, lower courts have been inconsistent on the issue.
In November 2011, a mid-level appeals court ruled in favor of the City of Riverside’s right to ban storefront dispensaries despite the state law, but later, an Orange County-based appellate court division reached an opposite conclusion, rejecting local dispensary bans. Last year, another appellate court struck down Los Angeles County’s two-year-old ban on dispensaries, ruling that state law allows cooperatives and collectives to grow, store and distribute pot. And in August, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge wrote that Long Beach’s ban “is virtually identical” to the L.A. County ban, “and is therefore preempted by state law.”
Riverside’s ban uses zoning powers to declare storefront pot shops as public nuisances and is similar to Long Beach’s MC 5.89, which according to police has been enforced with daily raids since it was enacted in February 2012. The Long Beach Police Department believes there to still be 15 to 17 locations continuing to operate illegally, down from a height of more than 50 before the ban.
Volunteers at several of these dispensaries estimate their storefronts have been served with search warrants, on average, once every two weeks for the last seven months and say that up to 10 officers and detectives arrive each time to conduct arrests and confiscate evidence. Many re-open shortly after being raided, citing patient need and the state law that prevents them from being fully prosecuted.
“If a dispensary re-opens, detectives will re-visit the location as soon as practicable,” said Marlene Arrona of the LBPD.
Many of the lawsuits currently pending against the City will be pre-empted by Monday’s supreme court decision, however others–specifically one filed by nine collectives in January that alleges 4th Amendment violations including “warrantless police raids” and “strong-arm tactics”–are likely to soon see their day in court.