California Supreme Court Throws Out Medical Marijuana Dispensary BanBy Thomas H. Clarke August 24, 2012
Decision Allows Localities to Implement Regulatory Programs for Medical Marijuana Dispensaries
LOS ANGELES, CA – In a landmark ruling affecting medical marijuana dispensaries throughout California, the state’s highest court dismissed the controversial case of Pack v. City of Long Beach on Wednesday, which previously held that federal law preempted some forms of dispensary regulations.
The Pack case addresses the issue of whether local regulations governing medical marijuana production and distribution are preempted by the federal law Controlled Substances Act. Wednesday’s California Supreme Court decision to dismiss this case means that localities can move forward enacting and implementing regulatory programs as they have been for many years.
“This is an important moment for medical marijuana patients in California,” said Joe Elford, Chief Counsel with Americans for Safe Access (ASA). “The California Supreme Court has essentially pulled out the rug from under local officials who have used the Pack decision to deny access to medical marijuana for thousands of patients across the state,” continued Elford. “Pack is now a dead letter and, because of the California Rules of Court (Rule 8.528), it is disingenuous for any public official to contend that the Court of Appeal decision is somehow reinstated.”
The Pack decision has been used by several municipalities, including Los Angeles and Long Beach, to suspend or ban outright the distribution of medical marijuana. However, Wednesday’s dismissal of the Pack decision throws into question the viability of such bans.
The Court found that since Long Beach had since repealed the ordinance that was the focus of the lower court’s decision that the legal validity of the ordinance was moot and dismissed the case.
The original decision in the Pack case came from an appellate court in October of 2011, which held that some medical marijuana dispensary regulations may be preempted by federal law. The case was appealed and a decision was made last January to vacate the lower court’s decision and review the ruling. The lower court’s decision in Pack concerned many localities in California that have enacted or wish to enact programs to regulate medical marijuana within their communities, some of which used it as a justification to ban dispensaries all together.
“The recent crackdown by the U.S. Attorneys in California has left medical marijuana businesses looking to state and local officials to carve a path of regulation in order to preserve safe access to medical marijuana in California. This decision allows them to move forward,” said Tamar Todd, senior staff attorney for the Drug Policy Alliance. “There is now no legal impediment for state and local government in California to move forward with responsible regulation for medical marijuana cultivation and distribution to patients. The question now is whether it is regulated or whether it operates on the margins.”
Because the recently adopted dispensary ban in Los Angeles was predicated on the Pack decision, enforcement efforts by the City Attorney would be premature and potentially unlawful. Despite threats of enforcement, patient advocates have vowed to overturn the ban in Los Angeles and are currently gathering the fewer than 30,000 signatures needed to do so.
Several other appellate cases remain before the State Supreme Court pending review later this year or early next year. The California Supreme Court is still poised to decide Riverside v. Inland Empire Patient’s Health and Wellness Center. The Riverside case addresses the issue of whether localities have a right under state law to ban all dispensaries.
There are currently more than 50 cities and counties in California that have adopted dispensary regulatory ordinances, which are safely and legally accommodating the needs of their patients, as well as other members of their communities. An increasing number of studies also show that regulating dispensaries decrease crime and increase the quality of life in surrounding neighborhoods.
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