Letter of the law

September 08, 2010

Jake Armstrong, Pasadena Weekly

The nation's leading medical marijuana advocacy group is urging Pasadena city officials and 142 other local governments to reconsider their bans on dispensaries -- or else.
Americans for Safe Access put Pasadena on notice last week that its ban on dispensaries may be in violation of California law, after a state appeals court's decision that marijuana's illegality under federal law does not preempt local regulation of dispensaries under the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law.
The Oakland-based advocacy group, which unsuccessfully sued to overturn the city's ban before it took effect in 2005, threatened legal action again if the city rebuffed its request.
"I ask that you regulate medical marijuana dispensaries, rather than ban them, and offer our assistance in working with you to comply with California law in this area," ASA Chief Counsel Joseph Elford wrote in a letter to City Attorney Michele Beal Bagneris. "Otherwise, we will explore our legal options."
But Pasadena City Councilman Victor Gordo, who voted for the ban but hadn't yet seen the letter or the court decision prompting it, said he's not ready to revisit the issue without a court order, adding that dispensaries in Los Angeles have proven "a magnet for crime and criminal activity."
From a land use perspective, Gordo said, "In my mind the answer to the question is clear: We have a ban and, absent a court directing us to do otherwise, the ban should remain in place."
In 2005, the Pasadena council approved a change to the zoning code that prohibits any facility that "provides, makes available or distributes medical marijuana" from operating in the city.
Two years later, the city of Anaheim voted to ban dispensaries based on its illegality under federal law, triggering a lawsuit from the Qualified Patients Collective, which sought to open in the city.
But California's 4th District Court of Appeal on Aug. 18 rejected Anaheim's argument that a local government can prohibit dispensaries based on federal law. The appeals court sent the case back to the lower court for further hearings without ruling whether the state's marijuana law allows cities to ban dispensaries.

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