State Court Guts Local Ban on Marijuana Dispensaries Although Feds Have Closed 500 Pot Shops

Wednesday, July 04, 2012


It all may be moot if the federal government amps up its crackdown on California medical marijuana, but for now lower state courts are setting the stage for a Supreme Court showdown over city and county bans on dispensaries.

On Monday, California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal struck down Los Angeles County’s 2010 ban on medical marijuana dispensaries because state law allows collectives to grow and distribute pot. The decision may be appealed to the state Supreme Court but for now its effect on similar local bans in places like Long Beach, Danville, Daly City and Leandro remains uncertain.

Also uncertain is how whipsawed cities and counties will react to efforts to enforce federal laws that consider possession and distribution of marijuana illegal. California’s four U.S. Attorneys have joined with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Drug Enforcement Agency to shut down at least 500 cannabis dispensaries over the past eight months.

Even in the U.S. Attorneys’ Northern District, which is a hotbed of resistance and includes San Francisco and Oakland, an estimated 46% of the 1,400 dispensaries that existed in October are now closed. According to Americans for Safe Access, the 50 or so municipalities in the district with pot ordinances (except San Francisco and Oakland) have suspended administration of dispensaries.

Compounding the chaotic situation is a number of cases filtering through the state court system and, perhaps, heading for the state Supreme Court. That includes a seemingly conflicting case from the 2nd District Court of Appeal in October that seemed to smack down medical marijuana advocates when it ruled that Long Beach couldn’t issue permits to dispensaries because federal law criminalizes marijuana. The 4th District Court of Appeal has ruled that Anaheim can’t ban dispenseries just because of federal laws. The high court also has cases on dispensary bans in Riverside and San Bernardino.

“It's chaos,” said Dale Gieringer, California director for the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws. “We're going to have to wait for the Supreme Court to sort this out.”

Not that the high court would necessarily have the last word. Joe Elford, legal counsel for Americans for Safe Access, has said, “If the Supreme Court issues a decision we don't agree with, we're going to the Legislature to clarify it,” he said. “I don't think the California Supreme Court will be the last word on these issues.”

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

County Ban on Medpot Dispensaries Ruled Illegal (by Greggory Moore, Long Beach Post)

Los Angeles County v. Alternative Medicinal Cannabis Collection (pdf)

CA Court Strikes Down LA County's Pot Shop Ban (Associated Press)

Marijuana Ban in San Leandro on Hold (by Rebecca Parr, Hayward Daily Review)

California Appeals Court Strikes Down Medical Marijuana Dispensary Bans (by Chris Roberts, San Francisco Weekly)

Cities Balk as Federal Law on Marijuana Is Enforced (by Norimitsu Onishi, New York Times)

California Supreme Court's Daunting Task: Unite Pot-Dispensary Rulings (by Peter Hecht, Sacramento Bee)

Obama Administration Steps Up Attack on Legal Marijuana with Threat to Growers (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

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