California Supreme Court Recognizes Legality of Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

California Supreme Court Recognizes Legality of Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

SACRAMENTO, CA —  The California Supreme Court ruled today in the case City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center that local governments may ban the distribution of medical marijuana and are not preempted by state law by doing so.

However, the court also recognized the legality of dispensaries, more than 1,000 of which currently exist and operate throughout the state.  More than 50 localities in California officially regulate the distribution of medical marijuana, while nearly 200 cities ban the activity outright. Notably, the court emphasized that, “nothing prevents future efforts by the Legislature, or by the People, to adopt a different approach.”

“While the California Supreme Court ruling ignores the needs of thousands of patients across the state, it simply maintains the status quo,” said Joe Elford, Chief Counsel with Americans for Safe Access, the country’s leading medical marijuana advocacy group, which filed an amicus ‘friend of the court’ brief in the Riverside case. “Notably, the High Court deferred to the state legislature to establish a clearer regulatory system for the distribution of medical marijuana, which advocates and state officials are currently working on.”

Proposition 215, passed by California voters in 1996, encouraged the state and federal governments to adopt a distribution plan, however that never happened. In 2003, the California legislature adopted the Medical Marijuana Program Act (MMPA), which addressed the issue of distribution, but left much of the authority to local governments.

Concurrent to the California Supreme Court decision in the Riverside case is a renewed effort by advocates and elected officials to seek medical marijuana reforms in Sacramento. CRMM is hosting a lobby day today, during which scores of advocates will meet with their state legislators to urge passage of pending medical marijuana regulatory bills such as SB 439, introduced by State Senate President Pro-Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), and AB 473, introduced by Assembly member Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco).

Mayors from San Diego, San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley are urging the legislature to ensure that patients have a safe and legal means to obtain their medication. San Diego Mayor Bob Filner “urge[s] the Governor’s office and the Legislature to craft sensible medical cannabis guidelines, to provide clarity to local governments, and finally to implement the will of a majority of Californians who believe in compassionate use,” a sentiment echoed in the other mayoral letters.

Oral arguments occurred in February in the Riverside case, which is one of at least six similar appellate cases before the High Court, including County of Los Angeles v. Alternative Medicinal Cannabis Collective420 Caregivers v. City of Los AngelesCity of Lake Forest v. Evergreen Holistic CollectiveCity of Temecula v. Cooperative Patients Services, Inc., and People v. G3 Holistic. Last July, ASA filed an amicus ‘friend of the court’ brief in the Riverside case on behalf of patients and against local bans.

Despite the outcome of the Riverside case, research has shown that well-regulated dispensaries decrease crime in surrounding neighborhoods, while providing a safe and legal means for patients to obtain their medical marijuana. “Patients should not be pushed into dark alleys in order to obtain a medicine that has been deemed legal by the voters of California,” said Don Duncan, ASA’s California Policy Director, “The ball is in the legislature’s court to establish statewide regulations that both meet the needs of patients and keep communities safe.”