Medical Marijuana Dispensary Ban Lawsuit Argued in Appellate Court

September 22, 2009
Santa Ana, CA -- California's Fourth Appellate District will hear oral arguments Wednesday in Qualified Patients Association v. City of Anaheim, a case that may decide whether local governments can ban medical marijuana dispensing collectives from operating. The nationwide medical marijuana advocacy organization Americans for Safe Access (ASA) will argue Wednesday against such bans, claiming that under state law local officials have an obligation to allow for the operation of lawful dispensing collectives, also known as dispensaries. "The City of Anaheim cannot hide behind federal law," said ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford, arguing Wednesday in support of Qualified Patients Association (QPA). "Local governments cannot simply ban an activity that has been deemed lawful by the state."
What: Oral Arguments in medical marijuana dispensary lawsuit Qualified Patients Association v. City of Anaheim
When: Wednesday, September 23, 2009 at 1pm
Where: Fourth Appellate District Court, 601 W. Santa Ana Blvd., Santa Ana
QPA filed its lawsuit shortly after Anaheim adopted a ban on dispensing in July 2007. QPA had been in operation for about 5 months prior to the ban. The Orange County Superior Court ruled in September 2007 that the City of Anaheim could prohibit medical marijuana dispensaries from operating within its city limits. A few months after the March 2008 appeal, ASA filed an amicus or 'friend of the court' brief on behalf of QPA and the right of dispensaries across the state to lawfully operate.

The Anaheim case has drawn a lot of attention as more and more local governments confront the issue of access to medical marijuana. Multiple statewide law enforcement associations have filed briefs in support of Anaheim, as have nearly three-dozen cities, including several in Orange County: Costa Mesa, Cypress, Fullerton, Garden Grove, Newport Beach, Orange, Placentia, Tustin and Westminster. While more than 40 localities have adopted ordinances regulating medical marijuana dispensaries, at least 120 localities (17 in Orange County) have banned their operation outright.

Shortly after the appeal was filed, the California Attorney General issued guidelines in August 2008 recognizing the legality of storefront dispensaries as long as they comply with certain operational requirements. For instance, dispensaries must operate as a collective or cooperative on a not-for-profit basis, sell only to member patients and primary caregivers, and pay sales tax to the State. In addition, the Fourth Appellate District Court ruled in Garden Grove v. Superior Court in November 2007 that the state's medical marijuana law was not preempted by federal law and that local officials must uphold state, not federal, law.

The Anaheim case is the first lawsuit of its kind to reach the appellate courts in California, and stands to shape the issue of access to medical marijuana for the state. "Dispensaries serve a critical function for our most seriously ill and should be encouraged, not banned," said ASA Media Liaison Kris Hermes. "Thousands of patients in California cannot cultivate their own medical marijuana and rely on local dispensaries for safer access than the illicit market." An increasing number of medical marijuana states are adopting laws to deal with the issue of local distribution, including New Mexico, and Rhode Island.

A decision by the Fourth Appellate District Court in the Anaheim case is expected within 90 days.

ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford will be available for interviews immediately after the 1pm hearing.

Further information:
ASA amicus brief in Anaheim case: http://AmericansForSafeAccess.org/downloads/Amicus_Qualified_Patients_Assoc.pdf
Appellate court history in Anaheim case: http://appellatecases.courtinfo.ca.gov/search/case/dockets.cfm?dist=43&doc_id=1201856&doc_no=G040077
List of dispensary regulations and bans in California: http://AmericansForSafeAccess.org/regulations

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