On Monday, the Supreme Court of California ruled that local governments have the power to ban operating medical marijuana dispensaries within their jurisdictions. The unanimous decision shifts the burden on to local governments in deciding whether to treat medical marijuana shops according to state law, which makes them legal, or according to federal law, which makes them illegal.
In the instant case, the California Supreme Court upheld a ban on medical marijuana shops enacted in 2010 by the southern California city of Riverside.
While state law in California allows the production and sale and consumption of medical marijuana, federal law still treats medical marijuana as a federally banned drug. The apparent conflict in the legal status of medical marijuana had created a grey area spawning several lawsuits.
In certain instances, federal authorities trying to close down medical marijuana shops, which are allowed under California state law, had even gone to the extent of threatening landlords of such shops for letting out their properties to deal in federally banned drugs. Federal prosecutors in California went so far as to use civil forfeiture and cause evictions and shut downs of medical marijuana dispensaries in the state.
While the ruling did not spell out that local governments have the right to decide on the legal status of medical marijuana per se, it said that local governments retained authority to decide the use of land under their jurisdictions.
The ruling observed that California law does not pre-empt the authority of local governments to “allow, restrict, limit, or entirely exclude facilities that distribute medical marijuana.”
While California was the first state in the nation to legalize medical marijuana, records show that more than 180 local governments in the state, including cities and counties, have banned medical marijuana dispensaries.
It’s not that all local governments are against medical marijuana. The city of Oakland sued the federal government after the feds tried to close the world’s largest medical marijuana dispensary, Harborside Health Center. Following Monday’s ruling, Steve DeAngelo, director of Harborside said, “The court’s decision will force patients to obtain cannabis from gangs and cartels…” Harborside had more than 100,000 patients who used medical marijuana to relieve pain and other maladies.