Court Ruling Opens Door For Local Marijuana Dispensaries

July 03, 2012

Toni McAllister, Temecula Patch

The city of Temecula may find itself unable to ban medical marijuana dispensaries in future, following a landmark decision handed down Monday by a state appellate court.

A three-justice panel on the Second District Court of Appeal in California issued a July 2 decision in County of Los Angeles v. Alternative Medicinal Cannabis Collective that rejected bans on dispensaries imposed by local governments.

In the decision, the court ruled that L.A. County's "complete ban" on medical marijuana is "preempted" by state law, which voids the local ordinance.

The ruling reverses a preliminary injunction granted to the county by the Los Angeles Superior Court in May 2011.

Under California law, medical marijuana is legal. (Read more about the 1996 Compassionate Use Act or the Medical Marijuana Program Act on the state’s website.) However, local jurisdictions -- including Temecula and Murrieta, surrounding cities and Riverside County – have banned marijuana dispensaries and storefronts.

In recent months, the county, Drug Enforcement Administration, and Department of Justice have teamed to shutter all local marijuana dispensaries.

The July 2 decision puts the bans in question. According to the ruling, "[T]he repeated use of the term 'dispensary' throughout [Health and Safety Code section 11362.768] and the reference in subdivision (e) to a 'storefront or mobile retail outlet' make it abundantly clear that the medical marijuana collectives authorized by section 11362.775 are permitted by state law to perform a dispensary function. [Los Angeles] County's total, per se nuisance ban against medical marijuana dispensaries directly contradicts the Legislature's intent."

The decision is the opposite of one put forth by the state's Fourth District Court of Appeal, which ruled in November that nothing in the 1996 Compassionate Use Act or the Medical Marijuana Program Act preempts cities from banning dispensaries. In that case, City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patient's Health and Wellness, the court ruled in favor of allowing local municipalities to impose bans on the facilities.

Ultimately, the California Supreme Court will have the final say. Two state appellate court rulings that have impacts on the dispensaries have been granted review by the high court, including Pack v. City of Long Beach, which addresses how localities can regulate distribution.

The second ruling, City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patient's Health and Wellness decision, deals with whether municipalities can permanently ban distribution.

The California Supreme Court could also decide to review the July 2 ruling.

After hearing this week’s decision, Joe Elford, chief counsel with Americans for Safe Access, said, "The court of appeal could not have been clearer in expressing that medical marijuana dispensaries are legal under state law, and that municipalities have no right to ban them. This landmark decision should have a considerable impact on how the California Supreme Court rules in the various dispensary cases it's currently reviewing."

Be the first to Comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.