Pages tagged "Riverside v. Inland Empire"


Medical Marijuana Patients Missing from California Supreme Court Oral Arguments

In a highly-publicized and widely-watched medical marijuana case, the California Supreme Court heard oral arguments yesterday on whether municipalities should be able to ban local medical marijuana distribution, an activity deemed legal under state law. For all of the controversy and strenuous arguments made on both sides of the issue, those who stand the most to lose -- medical marijuana patients themselves -- were completely ignored.

In the case City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center, the abstract but quantifiable impact of dispensary bans is that tens of thousands of patients are left without safe and legal access to their medication, mainly as a result of hostile or reluctant local officials. Today, more than 50 localities in California have adopted ordinances regulating the lawful distribution of medical marijuana, while more than 200 of the state’s cities and counties have banned dispensaries outright. For the past 7 years, city councils and county boards of supervisors have passed bans with complete disregard to the impact on their most vulnerable residents.

From a practical standpoint, patients who live in cities where dispensary bans exist and who cannot grow it themselves or find someone to grow it for them are stuck with an unfortunate dilemma: how to obtain a medication that is legal under state law. Every time a dispensary ban is unreasonably and arguably illegally imposed, hundreds if not thousands of patients wake up the next morning not knowing where they’re going to get the medicine they rely on. These patients are commonly forced to either go without their medication, travel long distances to obtain it, or engage with the illicit market as one of the few alternatives to such distribution prohibitions.

The California Supreme Court ultimately focused on two issues: whether medical marijuana distribution is protected activity under the scope of California’s medical marijuana law, and, if so, whether local dispensary bans are preempted by state law.

Much time was spent dissecting the first issue as it relates to the statutory language of the law. Did the Medical Marijuana Program Act (MMPA) passed in 2003 sufficiently spell out the mechanism for lawful distribution in the state? Did the statutory language sufficiently protect such distribution from local bans? Or, did local bans frustrate the purpose of the law, which is to uniformly implement a functional medical marijuana program?

Little time, however, was spent reviewing existing case law that the High Court at one time or another had the chance to review. Plaintiffs’ counsel, J. David Nick, raised People v. Urziceanu and People v. Colvin, and would likely have raised People v. Jackson if the Justices hadn’t cut him off, to show that the legality of dispensaries was well established. Unfortunately, the City of Riverside’s false claim that no case law existed to substantiate the legality of storefront distribution went unchallenged.

Some Justices, Judge Goodwin Liu in particular, questioned whether the MMPA was anything more than limited immunity from criminal prosecution. If so, the Court could logically evade the decision of whether cities can ban distribution. The California Supreme Court ruled previously in Ross v. Ragingwire that no right to civil action existed for patients and the City of Riverside missed no opportunity to invoke that decision. However, neither party nor the court raised an important caveat to Ross. In Butte County v. Superior Court, a landmark appellate decision that was denied review by the High Court solidly affirmed the civil rights of patients under state law. The Butte County Court held that the Medical Marijuana Program Act passed in 2003 was not limited to criminal immunities; it also could be applied more broadly in the civil context under certain circumstances.

Regardless of how the Court rules in Riverside, patients will continue to demand uniform application of the law and a right to safe and legal access to their medicine. The patchwork system that currently exists in the state, with far more municipal bans than regulatory ordinances, has perverted the will of California voters and jeopardized the health and safety of countless patients.

The California Supreme Court has a chance to assist in the equitable implementation of California’s medical marijuana law. Sensible public health policy dictates that municipal governments should have the right to regulate safe and legal distribution of medical marijuana, but not ban that activity outright. The High Court knows what to do and should take decisive action, ensuring against any further harm resulting from the current haphazard and largely punitive policy on local medical marijuana distribution.

Cutting through the legal quagmire, patients demand safe and legal access to medical marijuana



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last Friday, patient advocates Americans for Safe Access (ASA) filed an amicus ‘friend of the court’ brief in City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patient’s Health and Wellness Center to convey the urgent need for safe and legal access to medical marijuana. In what is possibly the most important issue currently facing hundreds of thousands of patients in California, ASA urged the State Supreme Court to reject the notion that municipalities can ban local distribution of medical marijuana, thereby cutting off access. Specifically, ASA argued in its brief that:
While municipalities may pass reasonable regulations over the location and operation of medical marijuana collectives, they cannot ban them absolutely. These bans thwart the Legislature’s stated objectives of ensuring access to marijuana for the seriously ill persons who need it in a uniform manner throughout the state.

In addition to the Riverside case, the State Supreme Court is reviewing the Pack v. City of Long Beach decision, which involves issues of federal preemption. Adding even more appellate decisions to the mix, last week the Second District issued two conflicting rulings. One of the rulings in County of Los Angeles v. Alternative Medicinal Cannabis Collective held that dispensaries were legal under state law and that municipalities could not ban them.

At the time, ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford said in a prepared statement that:
The court of appeal could not have been clearer in expressing that medical marijuana dispensaries are legal under state law, and that municipalities have no right to ban them. This landmark decision should have a considerable impact on how the California Supreme Court rules in the various dispensary cases it’s currently reviewing.

There are a staggering 178 cities in California that have completely ignored the needs of patients in their community by adopting bans against medical marijuana dispensaries. However, there are more than 50 municipalities, which have adopted regulatory ordinances that have safely and legally accommodated for the needs of their patients, as well as other members of their communities. An increasing number of studies also show that regulating dispensaries will decrease crime and increase the quality of life in surrounding neighborhoods.

Patient advocates are not putting all their eggs in the California Supreme Court basket. There is still an effort afoot to pass legislation next year to regulate medical marijuana at the state level. The statewide ballot initiative process is yet another option available to patient advocates and one that will definitely be considered in the months ahead.

CA Supreme Court Grants Review to Pack and Riverside, Local Lawmakers Should Take Note

The California Supreme Court has made a move that should improve safe access by granting review for two controversial medical marijuana cases decided by lower appellate courts in 2011. As a result of this move, both Pack v. City of Long Beach (link to ASA blog on Pack), and Riverside v. Inland Empire Patient's Health and Wellness Center, are effectively decertified until the court reaches its final decision, a process which some expect to go on for two years, as Ross v. RagingWire took two years to decide.

The decisions by the lower appellate court in both of these cases have been harmful for patient access to medicine, but the Pack fallout has been particular damaging. The Pack ruling in October set off a firestorm of cities and counties moving to ban dispensaries throughout the state, even beyond the Second District of the CA Court of Appeals where the case was decided. These panicked reactions by lawmakers have resulted in weakened availability to medicine for Californian patients. As is stands now, Pack and Riverside are now dead letters.

California Cityand County legislators should take note of the impact of this move by the state high court before moving forward with any further legislation as a result of lower court’s Pack ruling. A city or county presently considering a dispensary ban based upon Pack, such as the largest city in the state, ought to recognize that they would be undermining patients’ ability to obtain medicine they need, all in reaction to a case that no longer has legal authority. Regardless of the ultimate outcome of the Pack and Riverside decisions, making rash policy changes that are harmful to the health of Californians following the decertification of Pack seems like an unnecessary proposition at best.

CA Court of Appeals Pack decision: http://safeaccessnow.org/downloads/Pack_v_Long_Beach.pdf

CA Court of Appeals Riverside decision: http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/opinions/documents/E052400.PDF