Riverside Court Allows Localities to Ban Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Through Zoning Laws

November 11, 2011 | Joe Elford
Notwithstanding the fact that the California Legislature expressly enacted the Medical Marijuana Program Act ("the MMPA" or "SB420") to "[e]nhance the access of patients and caregivers to medical marijuana through collective, cooperative cultivation projects," some localities are seeking to eradicate them through the use of their zoning laws. The most recent example of this, City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patient's Health and Wellness Center, Inc., involves Riverside's ban on medical marijuana dispensaries ("MMDs") through its Zoning Code.  In a published decision released on Wednesday, the Court of Appeal held this was a valid exercise of the City's zoning authority that does not conflict with, or is "inimical to," the MMPA.  While ASA believes this holding is incorrect, as is more fully explained in ASA's amicus curiae ("friend of the court") brief in Qualified Patients Association v. City of Anaheim, the Riverside case does not forbid localities from regulating dispensaries, as some have said. First, the Riverside decision expressly rejects the proposition that federal law preempts local regulation of medical marijuana dispensaries:
[T]he city cannot rely on the proposition that federal law, which criminalizes the possession of marijuana, preempts state law allowing limiting the medical use of marijuana and MMD's.
Although the court held that the City may use its zoning authority to ban MMDs, it also allows localities to regulate them in a responsible manner, as many localities have, and will continue to do.
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