Judge: Anaheim can ban medical pot shops
August 21, 2011
Eric Carpenter, Orange County RegisterA Superior Court judge has ruled that Anaheim's law banning medical-marijuana dispensaries doesn't conflict with state law – the clearest ruling yet in a widely watched court case that has dragged on for years.
The case is now likely headed back to a state appeals court, which could provide the definitive ruling that cities across California have been waiting for.
Orange County Superior Court Judge David Chaffee ruled in a minute order released last week that the city's ordinance, enacted in August 2007, does not conflict with either the state's "compassionate-use" initiative passed by voters in 1996 (Prop. 215), or the 2003 state law allowing for medical-cannabis to be used by qualified patients (Senate Bill 420).
Anaheim's law, the judge ruled, restricts distribution of medical-marijuana, which is not a contradiction to either the proposition or state law. In fact, the state Legislature allows local laws to "fill in the gaps that exist in state medical-marijuana law," the judge writes.
"We are very pleased with the trial court's ruling," said Moses Johnson, the attorney representing Anaheim. "This is the first real ruling we've had on the issue, and it clearly sets forth that the state law doesn't preempt the city's law.
"We've clearly won at this level – and I believe our position is certainly defensible on appeal," he added.
The judge's ruling won't be the final say on the issue.
Attorney Anthony Curiale, the Brea-based attorney who sued Anaheim on behalf of medical-marijuana patients, said he plans to appeal the case.
"We're still hopeful. I believe we can ultimately prevail," Curiale said. "I got the feeling last time the appellate court was not too enamored with Anaheim's law."
Curiale called Anaheim's law "unconstitutional" and said it unfairly restricts patients from obtaining medicinal cannabis.
California's 4th District Court of Appeal declined to rule on the case last year, sending it back to the trial court. The appeals court had only said cities couldn't stand solely on federal law to prohibit medical-marijuana dispensaries.
Both sides said they will petition the appeals court to expedite a decision.
"This has been dragging on for four years – we want to get a (final) ruling," Johnson said.
Anaheim has about 50 dispensaries operating within its borders – they've mostly been left alone while the court-case winds through the system. Anaheim's City Council is expected to discuss the case in closed-session Tuesday night.
Johnson declined to say what advice he would give the council on whether to enforce the city's ban now, saying only, "I will wait for direction from the council."
At least 36 cities filed briefs supporting Anaheim last year, including 10 from Orange County. Johnson said at least 164 cities have similar bans and he hopes more will support Anaheim when the case is appealed.
Americans for Safe Access says that 161 cities and 17 counties ban medical marijuana, while The Coalition for a Drug Free California indicates 224 cities and 15 counties.
Paul Chabot, who leads the drug-free coalition, sent out an email to supporters after seeing the ruling. He called it a "huge victory" and called on other cities "waiting on the sidelines" to move forward with similar bans.
Luisa Lawrence, who has helped operate an Anaheim dispensary called 420 Primary Caregivers for 10 years, said she is trying to be a responsible business owner and is hoping the city will allow her to remain in business.
"My husband, who started this (dispensary) died two years ago, and I took it over while raising three teenagers. I'm trying to do everything right," Lawrence said. "I will continue to fight for the right to do what we do, because I've seen the effect we have on improving the lives of our patients."