Background: Localized distribution of medical cannabis has been providing patients with safe access since before the Compassionate Use Act (CUA) was passed in 1996. Anticipating distribution to be an important part of state medical cannabis law, the authors of the CUA encouraged “federal and state governments to implement a plan for the safe and affordable distribution of marijuana to all patients in medical need of marijuana.” After passage of the Medical Marijuana Program Act in 2003, giving localities the ability to regulate local distribution, dozens of cities did so. Although not all cities in the state allow for and regulate dispensaries, more than a thousand facilities operate across California, bringing safe access to patients in both rural and urban communities.

Findings: The state legislature, the state and local courts, and the Attorney General’s office have all recognized medical cannabis dispensing collectives, or “dispensaries,” as legal entities in the State of California. After passage of the Medical Marijuana Program Act, which established the right of patients to associate collectively and cooperatively, the courts affirmed this right with landmark rulings in People v. Urziceanu (2005) and Williams v. Butte County (2009). In 2008, with the help of Americans for Safe Access, the California Attorney General drafted guidelines recognizing the legality of storefront dispensaries as long as they comply with state law requirements, such as paying sales tax and operating in a not-for-profit manner. Most recently, in 2010, the landmark ruling in Qualified Patients Association v. City of Anaheim held that local officials could not use federal law as an excuse to ban local distribution in California. Yet, despite the established legality of local distribution, local, state and federal law enforcement continue to disrupt and interfere in such practices.

Position: Medical cannabis dispensing collectives, or “dispensaries,” have been well established as legal entities under California law. However, Americans for Safe Access will continue to lobby and litigate at the local, state and federal levels to ensure that this important function of medical cannabis law is preserved and protected from unnecessary law enforcement interference.