Cities, Counties' Efforts to Ban Marijuana May Be Enshrined In Law

Chris Roberts, SF Weekly

Just because marijuana is legal in California doesn't mean you have the right to access marijuana in California.

That's been more or less the message over the past year, as cities and counties across the state have been busy slapping outright bans on otherwise lawful activity.

As the East Bay Express reported last month, numerous California communities have enacted laws outlawing marijuana in various forms -- some banning dispensaries, others telling people they can't grow legal cannabis on their properties -- in the wake of a 2013 state Supreme Court decision. That decision says communities have the right to pass a law that bans activity allowed under a previous law. In other words, the right for weed-hating places to say "no" is inching close to becoming law.

In the Supreme Court decision, judges affirmed the City of Riverside's right to ban medical cannabis dispensaries within city limits. In their opinion brief, the judges found that the state's overly broad medical marijuana laws don't preempt localities from enacting bans. Those state laws include Prop. 215, which was passed in 1996 and says sick people have the right to use marijuana, however it says nothing about where that weed must come from.

That could change, the judges wrote. "[N]othing prevents future efforts by the Legislature, or by the People, to adopt a different approach," they said.

Now it looks like it will have to be the people or nothing, as the Legislature is moving towards making cities' abilities to ban marijuana stores and marijuana cultivation part of California law.

For some time, San Francisco's own Assemblyman Tom Ammiano has been trying to pass statewide rules on medical cannabis, rather than the patchwork of oft-conflicting local rules and regulations (San Mateo County, for example, bans dispensaries; that's one reason why the pot clubs in southern San Francisco do good business).

Standing in his way have been the League of California Cities, an influential lobbyist group that opposes any set of state rules that would erode cities' abilities to ban cannabis, lobbyist Tim Cromartie told SF Weekly.

As the EBX reported, currently, medical marijuana users unlucky enough to live in the Central Valley, for instance, must drive 50 miles or more to the nearest legal medical cannabis store. Almost 1/4 of the state's cannabis users have to make a similar drive to find legal weed, an Americans for Safe Access survey found.

Earlier Ammiano legislation said that cities of 50,000 people or more should have at least one dispensary. That would be a "violation of municipal sovereignty," a fired-up Cromartie said. "The state has no business interfering with that."

Ammiano has been trying, without success, to pass legislation on weed for years. Last Friday, in order to get his regulation bill out of an Assembly committee, it was amended to specifically allow for local bans.

So far, cannabis advocates have been circumspect. CA NORML, an opponent of bans, waxed pragmatic, noting that Ammiano's bill does complete the main task at hand: getting statewide rules passed, as the federal government has demanded.

It also means that cities and counties across the state will continue to put sick people and/or stoned people out on the roads to find other places willing to collect taxes on a marijuana sale, while meanwhile helping local drug dealers' business.