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California Supreme Court Sides With Cities And Counties On Marijuana Bans

Culver City, as well as other local jurisdictions with bans against pot operations, now have a state Supreme Court ruling to back them up.

Do California statutes that protect patients from being arrested if they use marijuana also protect pot facilities that set up shop in local cities and counties?

In its written opinion released Monday, the California Supreme Court determined local jurisdictions can ban marijuana operations.

The high court’s decision follows months of anticipation stemming from a local case, , in which the defendant argued that under state law, the city had no right to shut down its medical marijuana facility.

In its argument, the Inland Empire Patient's Health and Wellness Center used two state statutes to make its case. In 1996, California voters approved the Compassionate Use Act (CUA), which allows possession and cultivation of marijuana for personal medical purposes upon the written or oral recommendation or approval of a physician. In 2004, the California lawmakers also adopted the Medical Marijuana Program (MMP), designed to streamline the 1996 law and allow patients to band together to cultivate and distribute marijuana for medical purposes only.

The high court recognized the CUA and the MMP in its opinion Monday, but ruled the statutes don’t dictate whether local jurisdictions can ban pot facilities.

“… the CUA and the MMP are careful and limited forays into the subject of medical marijuana, aimed at striking a delicate balance in an area that remains controversial, and involves sensitivity in federal-state relations. We must take these laws as we find them, and their purposes and provisions are modest. They remove state-level criminal and civil sanctions from specified medical marijuana activities, but they do not establish a comprehensive state system of legalized medical marijuana; or grant a ‘right’ of convenient access to marijuana for medicinal use; or override the zoning, licensing, and police powers of local jurisdictions; or mandate local accommodation of medical marijuana cooperatives, collectives, or dispensaries,” the justices found.

“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 opinion read.

In exercising their land use powers, local jurisdictions are allowed, under zoning ordinances, to prohibit pot facilities as a use and abate them as a public nuisance, the high court ruled.

“The California Constitution recognizes the authority of cities and counties to make and enforce, within their borders, ‘all local, police, sanitary, and other ordinances and regulations not in conflict with general laws. This inherent local police power includes broad authority to determine, for purposes of the public health, safety, and welfare, the appropriate uses of land within a local jurisdiction’s borders, and preemption by state law is not lightly presumed,” the justices wrote.

Marijuana is illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA). In its opinion Monday, the state’s high court elaborated on the federal-versus-state issue.

“The CUA and the MMP have no effect on the federal enforceability of the CSA in California. The CSA’s prohibitions on the possession, distribution, or manufacture of marijuana remain fully enforceable in this jurisdiction,” the justices wrote.

The City of Culver City's Attorney's Office told Patch following the decision, that while the City does not have an express ban, dispensaries are not a permitted use under the Culver City Zoning Code.  Any further amendments to the Code would be a policy decision to be made by the City Council. 

The office also stated that "at this time the City Attorney’s Office does not have any comment on the court’s decision."

In April 2012, a Los Angeles Superior Court of Appeal upheld an order shutting down a medical marijuana dispensary that straddled the Los Angeles/Culver City boundary, after  Jeffrey K. Jopseh's medical marijuana dispensary, Organica, on Washington Boulevard was raided and shut down in February 2010.  

Joseph was  subsequently prohibited from unlawfully selling, serving, storing, keeping, manufacturing or giving away controlled substances, including marijuana, anywhere in Culver City or the City of Los Angeles.

Marijuana advocates are urging state legislators to pass pending medical marijuana regulatory bills, including SB 439, introduced by State Senate President Pro-Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), and AB 473, introduced by Assembly member Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco).

"The ball is in the legislature's court to establish statewide regulations that both meet the needs of patients and keep communities safe,” said Don Duncan, California's policy director for Americans for Safe Access, an advocacy group that supports medical marijuana. "Patients should not be pushed into dark alleys in order to obtain a medicine that has been deemed legal by the voters of California."

Monty Stretham May 07, 2013 at 02:23 PM
Witness the prohibition forces flailing in it's death throes.

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