State Appeals Court Rules Cities Can't Ban Pot Shops

July 03, 2012

City News Service, Hollywood Patch

A state appeals court affirmed the legality of medical marijuana dispensaries under California law and rejected bans imposed by municipalities.

A three-justice panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal held Monday that Los Angeles County's ban on medical marijuana is "preempted" by state law. The decision reverses a preliminary injunction granted to the county by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ann Jones in May 2011.   

On July 24th, the city of Los Angeles is scheduled to vote on a dispensary ban similar to the one enacted by the County, but just rejected by the court of appeal.

"The (appellate court) decision puts a giant wrench into the plans of City Attorney Trutanich to persuade the City Council to enact a ban," said Elford.

"Los Angeles County's total, per se nuisance ban against medical marijuana dispensaries directly contradicts the legislature's intent," Justice Robert Mallano wrote in the 19-page unanimous decision. The county sued the Alternative Medicinal Cannabis Collective in March 2011. Principal Deputy County Counsel Sari Steel could not be immediately reached.

"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," said Joe Elford, Chief Counsel with Americans for Safe Access, a medical marijuana advocacy group. "This landmark decision should have a considerable impact on how the California Supreme Court rules in the various dispensary cases it's currently reviewing."  

While the ruling will do doubt be welcomed by many in the medical marijuana community, it still does not make them safe from being raided and/or forcibly closed. The federal government has been enacting raids across the state, an aggressive policy change that was announced with a simultaneous raid on a North Hollywood-area shop last October.

The LAPD also appears to have left policies regarding pot shops up to each division. Over the last three years, the Devonshire Division systematically shut down dozens of shops, a move that scared off many others to the point that it is believed there are no more pot shops in the entire division's patrol area. However, serveral divisions have taken a hands-off approach to pot shops, leading to inconsistency in how the LAPD as a whole views pot shops.

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