Group sues East Bay city, others for banning pot clubs

October 05, 2005

Josh Richman, Oakland Tribune

An Oakland-based advocacy group is suing three California cities, including one in the East Bay, for banning medical marijuana dispensaries within their borders.

Concord, Pasadena and Susanville have no right to exclude activity permitted by state law, according to the suits filed by Americans for Safe Access and people who had tried to open dispensaries in those cities.

'The biggest hole in the Compassionate Use Act was in not describing the distribution method by which those who need marijuana are able to legally access their medicine,' ASA chief counsel Joe Elford said in a news release.

But a state law passed in 2003 legitimized collectives and cooperatives that distribute marijuana to patients with doctors' recommendations, he said.

'Cities are beholden to both state law and the well-being of their citizens.'

In the Concord case, Stephen DeAngelo — a patient who uses medical marijuana for chronic back pain from degenerative disc disease — sought permission this summer from the city's Planning Commission to open a collective dispensary in that city.

But the Concord City Council on Sept. 27 enacted an ordinance stating that dispensaries are 'prohibited in all zones and no conditional use permit shall be issued therefore.' The lawsuit claims this forces DeAngelo and other patients to turn to the black market to obtain the medicine they need, and it asks the court to void the city ordinance.

ASA's news release says patients sometimes can drive to other cities where dispensaries have been allowed. But while there are more than 120 such dispensaries, they are not distributed evenly around the state; ASA says it is a seven-hour drive from Susanville, in distant Lassen County, to the nearest dispensary.

'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,' ASA legal campaign director Kris Hermes said in the release.

ASA is willing to help cities and counties create reasonable regulations, he said, and will be distributing information to officials at the League of California Cities annual conference that began Wednesday and runs through Saturday at San Francisco's Moscone Center.

The three lawsuits follow one ASA filed against Fresno in April; the next hearing in that case is scheduled for Nov. 4.

And these could be a prelude to more litigation. At least 13 California localities — including those sued so far as well as San Rafael — have permanently banned dispensaries, while at least 56 — including almost 20 in the Bay Area — have enacted moratoriums on permitting new ones while officials consider their policies.

But 21 cities and counties have ordinances permitting and regulating dispensaries; Oakland's came first early last year, and Berkeley, Hayward, Ripon and San Jose have them, too. Alameda County adopted an ordinance this summer and now is revising it.



Contact Josh Richman at

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