ADVISORY: Local Bans on Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Draw Lawsuits

October 05, 2005

San Francisco, CA – Lawsuits over local bans on medical marijuana dispensaries will greet some of the elected officials gathering in San Francisco for the annual League of California Cities conference. Americans for Safe Access (ASA), an Oakland-based medical marijuana patient-advocacy group, will be announcing legal action against three California cities on the opening day of the convention. The ASA press conference will be held at 12:30 pm on Thursday, October 6, in front of the convention at Moscone Center West, 800 Howard St.

The lawsuits filed against Concord, Pasadena, and Susanville follow ASA's lawsuit filed this April against the city of Fresno for permanently banning medical cannabis dispensing collectives, which the suit contends illegally restricts the rights of qualified patients and their primary caregivers under California law. Each lawsuit includes a prospective dispensary operator plaintiff and a patient plaintiff.

"These bans clearly conflict with state law, " said Joe Elford, ASA Chief Counsel. "The biggest hole in the Compassionate Use Act was in not describing the distribution method by which those who need the marijuana are able to legally access their medicine. The legislative response to the electorate's charge was SB 420's legitimization of dispensing collectives and cooperatives. Cities are beholden to both state law and to the well-being of their citizens."

In order for the patient plaintiffs to currently obtain the medicine their doctor has recommended, they must drive to other cities that have condoned and regulated dispensaries for their citizens. There are over 120 known dispensing collectives (dispensaries) throughout California, however they are unevenly distributed and not easily accessible to all legal patients. For example, it is a seven hour drive from Susanville, one of the cities whose ban is contested by ASA, to the closest dispensing collective.

State Attorney General Bill Lockyer recently issued an opinion affirming that municipalities may not restrict the protections afforded by the Compassionate Use Act and SB420 to qualified medical marijuana patients. (To see this opinion, go to http://www.safeaccessnow.org/downloads/agopinion.pdf) This is one of several legal opinions issued to clarify the legal rights and responsibilities of state officials since the US Supreme Court ruled that state-legal patients can still be prosecuted under federal marijuana laws.

"We hope this litigation will help local officials realize that permanent bans are unacceptable not just legally but morally, since they punish the sick and suffering in their communities who mainly rely on dispensaries," said ASA Legal Campaign Director Kris Hermes. "We're here to guide them through the process of establishing reasonable and sensible regulations." ASA publishes a variety of legal and medical reference materials, and will have information to aid city officials available to all in attendance at the League of Cities meeting.

Since Oakland established the first ordinance condoning and regulating dispensaries in early 2004, twenty-one other cities and counties have followed suit (see: http://www.safeaccessnow.org/article.php?id=2208 for a list and links to the policies). Later in 2004, cities and counties began to establish moratoriums on dispensing in order to arrive at regulations. As of October 6, 2005, there are at least fifty-six localities with moratoriums and thirteen with permanent bans.

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Complaint & Plaintiff Details

CONCORD- Prospective dispensary operator Stephen DeAngelo, 510-295-8857, 47 years old. Stephen petitioned the Concord Planning Commission for a permit before the city banned dispensing. He uses marijuana to treat chronic pain associated with degenerative disc disease. Patient Andrew Gann, 925-674-0614, 27 years old. Andrew is a resident of Concord who uses marijuana to treat severe headaches and insomnia due to an accidental gunshot wound to his head.

Link to complaint: http://www.safeaccessnow.org/downloads/Dispensary_Complaint_Concord.pdf

PASADENA- Prospective dispensary operator Philip Lujan, 213-347-5540, 23 years old. Philip attended city council meetings and spoke with the mayor about establishing a dispensary in Pasadena before the city passed a ban. He uses marijuana to relieve a long-term gastrointestinal condition. Patient Patricia Schwartz, 626-390-2209, 49 years old. Patricia is a resident of Pasadena who uses marijuana to treat interstitial cystitis and chronic pain associated with fibromyalgia. Local counsel for Pasadena -- Bruce Margolin 310-652-0991.

Link to complaint: http://www.safeaccessnow.org/downloads/Dispensary_Complaint_Pasadena.pdf

SUSANVILLE- Prospective dispensary operator Tim Ziegler, 530-355-8347, 46 years old. Tim, a resident of Susanville, began informal discussions with city police about starting a dispensary, meanwhile the city passed a ban. He uses marijuana to treat chronic pain and muscle spasms. Patient Robin Rust, 530-251-2896, 41 years old. Robin is a resident of Susanville who uses marijuana to treat Multiple Sclerosis, and has to travel over 100 miles to Chico for her medicine. Local counsel for Susanville -- David Williams 530-257-0333.

Link to complaint: http://www.safeaccessnow.org/downloads/Dispensary_Complaint_Susanville.pdf



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