State's Highest Court to Decide Whether Cities and Counties can Ban Cannabis Dispensaries
Sixteen years after Californians approved medical marijuana, the state's highest court is poised to decide whether cities and counties can ban cannabis dispensaries.
The long-awaited ruling by the California Supreme Court, which hears arguments on the issue Feb. 5, follows years of contradictory decisions by the lower courts operating in a void because the state Legislature has yet to define the law or pass detailed regulations.
If the court upholds bans passed by more than 200 local governments, as some legal analysts expect, more such measures are likely to be adopted.
The court also could clarify other parts of the state's medical marijuana law, though no one expects its pronouncement to end the confusion.
"This is a subject matter that requires detailed regulations, and the California Legislature hasn't done the job," said Alex Kreit, a law professor who has advised San Diego on medical marijuana law.
Kreit pointed out that Colorado implemented its medical marijuana law with hundreds of regulations in a "fairly smooth process." California legislators have yet to adopt requirements for state licensing and labeling of marijuana, among other issues.
That has left judges struggling to interpret the law and local governments uncertain of how to enforce it. Prosecutors also have been vexed. Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris sent letters to legislative leaders in 2011 pleading for action.
"For some reason, the perception in Sacramento has been that this will go away, that this is radioactive, so there has been a lack of leadership and commitment on the issue," said Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), who last year introduced a bill to regulate medical marijuana. "That is changing."
While such cities as San Francisco and Oakland moved quickly to regulate medical marijuana, others, such as Los Angeles, failed to act immediately and were inundated with dispensaries, Kreit said. Once in place, the medical marijuana providers sued cities that tried to regulate them.
"Every dot of an 'i' and every cross of a 't' is litigated here in Los Angeles," said Los Angeles Special Assistant City Atty. Jane Usher. "Nothing has gone unchallenged. Any time you try to regulate, hold on to your hat because you will spend the next two or three years in litigation — which makes a ban look really appealing."
The California Supreme Court, in a handful of medical marijuana decisions, has generally interpreted the law narrowly, in one case upholding the right of employers to fire workers who use marijuana with a doctor's recommendation, even without evidence of impaired performance.
The Legislature's limited ...