Appeals court overturns CA city's marijuana law

October 05, 2011

, Associated Press

A state appeals court struck down a Long Beach law regulating medical marijuana dispensaries, ruling the ordinance conflicts with federal law banning pot use.

Legal experts told the Los Angeles Times ( the ruling may force cities across California to rewrite their medical marijuana ordinances.

Long Beach had attempted to control the number of pot dispensaries by adopting an ordinance limiting permits to winners of a lottery, who were then charged a fee to operate.

The ordinance was challenged by a dispensary that was ordered to close.

A three-judge panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled Tuesday that the lottery system conflicts with federal law banning possession and distribution of marijuana.

"This clearly falls into the category for the medical marijuana advocates of 'be careful what you ask for,' " Robert E. Shannon, Long Beach city attorney, told the Times.

He said it would be up to the City Council to decide whether to appeal or rewrite the ordinance. But he added, "The most logical thing to do is to ban that which we cannot regulate and permit."

Federal law bans the sale or possession of marijuana. California law only allows marijuana use for medical reasons.

San Francisco, Oakland and other California cities control pot dispensaries through a permit process.

Los Angeles is considering adopting a lottery system capping the number of dispensaries at 100. Assistant

City Attorney Jane Usher said she plans to discuss the Long Beach ruling with her City Council.

"Our provisions, which are registration and not a permit, are a step away from what Long Beach did, but it's a small step away," she said.

Joe Elford, chief counsel for the medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access, said the ruling "creates a fair amount of uncertainty" about the future of pot dispensaries.

"Obviously, it's not a decision we're happy about," he said.

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