California: Supreme Court Upholds Local Medical Marijuana Bans
By Steve Elliott
The California Supreme Court on Monday held that localities may entirely ban medical marijuana dispensaries from operating within their jurisdictions in a closely watched case, City of Riverside vs. Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center.
The result of the Court’s ruling is that tens of thousands of legitimate medical marijuana patients in California will be without safe and legal access to medical marijuana. To date, more than 200 localities have banned dispensaries outright; many more are expected to do so after Monday's ruling.
While there are more than 50 localities in California that have adopted ordinances that comprehensively and successfully regulate medical marijuana and provide meaningful patient access, many others have enacted bans over frustration and hostility at the burden of medical marijuana regulation falling at the local level.
It is likely that the Court’s decision Monday, absent action by the Legislature, will lead to more localities enacting bans.
Eleven other medical marijuana states regulate the production and distribution of medical marijuana at the state level. California is unique in placing the responsibility to regulate entirely at the local level and in its complete absence of statewide oversight.
Statewide regulation, as adopted and enacted in other states, provides for consistent access to medical marijuana by patients, reduces the burden on localities and local officials to regulate, and provides clarity and consistency to law enforcement across the state, according to the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA).
“Today’s decision allowing localities to ban will likely lead to reduced patient access in California unless the state finally steps up to provide regulatory oversight and guidance,” said Tamar Todd, senior staff attorney for the DPA. “The good news, though is that this problem is fixable.
"It is time for the state Legislature to enact statewide medical marijuana oversight and regulation that both protects patient access and eases the burden on localities to deal with this issue on their own," Todd said. "Localities will stop enacting bans once the state has stepped up and assumed its responsibility to regulate.”
Leaders in the California Legislature have introduced two bills that would create state-wide medical marijuana regulations this year, AB 473 (Ammiano) and SB 439 (Steinberg). The bills have each passed their first committee and are supported by a broad coalition of patients, dispensaries, and law enforcement groups.
(Photo: University of San Francisco)