Pot dispensary ban OKd by Calif. top court
May 06, 2013
Bob Egelko, San Francisco ChronicleSeventeen years after California became the first state to legalize the medical use of marijuana, the state Supreme Court ruled Monday that cities can ban pot dispensaries, preserving a system in which some patients can find their supplies nearby while others have to travel or grow their own.
The court said the bans are part of local governments' authority to regulate land use and do not conflict with Californians' right to possess marijuana for medical use.
The 1996 ballot measure that legalized medical cannabis, and 2004 legislation that authorized nonprofit collectives and I.D. cards, have protected patients from arrest but have not established "a comprehensive state system of legalized medical marijuana, or ... a 'right' of convenient access," said Justice Marvin Baxter in the unanimous decision.
More than 200 local governments, and more than 20 in the Bay Area, prohibit the dispensaries within their borders, while others such as San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose issue permits for medical marijuana distribution. The ruling could lead to further bans by cities that had imposed temporary moratoriums while awaiting court clarification.
On the other hand, it could prompt the Legislature, which has largely left regulation of medical marijuana to local governments, to impose statewide rules that would either encourage or require cities to allow some type of storefront distribution.
The current system "leaves a lot of patients without access," said Amanda Reiman of the Drug Policy Alliance. "We hope this (ruling) will be a sign to the state that it's time to pass medical marijuana regulation."
The bans require many medical marijuana consumers to travel long distances to find a legal distributor or to resort to the illegal market, said Kris Hermes, spokesman for Americans for Safe Access, which spent part of the day lobbying the Legislature.
One pending bill, AB473 by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, would establish an agency to enact statewide rules on how medical marijuana is produced and distributed.
The measure, which has cleared its first committee, is intended to "make localities more open to allowing dispensaries," Ammiano said Monday. But he said a future bill might be needed to "ensure that patients have access to medical cannabis wherever they live."
It was the second major ruling to limit the scope of the 1996 initiative, which allowed individuals to use marijuana with a doctor's recommendation but did not specify their rights in other settings. The state court in 2008 allowed employers to fire workers who tested positive for marijuana that they had used for medical reasons outside the workplace, even if it did not affect their performance.
Federal prosecutors, meanwhile, have shut down hundreds of marijuana dispensaries in the state by threatening to prosecute their landlords.
Monday's case came from Riverside, where a medical marijuana collective challenged the city's ban.
Bay Area cities that now outlaw pot dispensaries:
-- Concord Daly City
-- El Cerrito
-- Los Gatos
-- Redwood City
-- San Bruno
-- San Rafael
-- South San Francisco
-- Union City
Source: Americans for Safe Access