Medical marijuana is legal in California. But you can't sell medical marijuana in California?
It's a contentious issue, one that even the author of California's dispensary legislation argues to this day: Former state Sen. John Vasconcellos told us the law was intended to allow pot sales. The L.A. city attorney's office, the L.A. district attorney and the LAPD say otherwise: You sell it, you're violating the law.
A new court ruling (or, actually, a lack of one), is being hailed as a huge victory by the side that says selling is drug dealing:
The California Supreme Court declined to review a lower court decision that favored the city of L.A. in its crackdown on a Culver City-adjacent pot shop called Organica.
The operator argued that the store was protected from the city's nuisance abatement efforts by state law allowing medical marijuana collectives. Here's the city attorney's spin today on the lower court ruling that was, in effect, upheld with the Supreme Court decided not to review it (emphasis ours):
The Court held that only group activity by qualified patients or their primary caregivers "to cultivate marijuana for medical purposes" was immunized. Dispensing and selling marijuana were not immunized and remains illegal. The Court specifically noted that only individual primary caregivers were authorized to receive any reimbursement.
Is this another nail in the coffin of dispensaries?
The L.A. City Council is on the verge of outlawing our town's 500 or so dispensaries. One of the arguments made by leaders of the effort, including Councilman Jose Huizar, is that pot shops shouldn't be selling weed for profit -- that the law was only intended to green-light the sharing of weed collectively by and for the ill.
Huizar's proposal would allow nonprofit collectives of folks who want to grow and share pot for medical needs.
In the meantime, the LAPD has been shutting down dispensaries in the San Fernando Valley -- mainly based on the concept that selling pot, even under the banner of medical use, is illegal.
Organica operated on the border of L.A. and Culver City. Prosecutors alleged that the shop marketed its wares to nearby high schoolers.
In a 2010 decision, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James Chalfant alleged that the operator of Organica was "simply a drug dealer."
It seems that this ruling would give L.A. and other cities free reign to shut down dispensaries. However, this wasn't the landmark decision people have been waiting for:
Peck v. City of Long Beach essentially said cities like Long Beach and L.A. can't regulate pot shops the way they have in the past.
That decision is being appealed to the Supreme Court as well. In the meantime, it has caused cities like L.A. to throw up their hands and essentially declare that banning dispensaries would be easier than trying to regulate them.
[Added at 1 p.m.]: Americans for Safe Access spokesman Kris Hermes says this isn't over yet.
His reading of the Supreme Court's move is that while the lower court found the operator didn't have a defense under the 1996 act that legalized medical marijuana, it didn't negate the concept of "distribution" of cannabis to the ill and, he maintains, Vasconcellos' subsequent law still holds that sales and distribution are legit.
Hermes notes that the lower court ruling was originally unpublished -- meaning it couldn't be used to establish precedent -- and says that the city attorney's office pushed the courts to publish it so that it would establish some precedent.
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However, he says that there are several decisions before the Supreme Court this year that could turn this case around and affirm that sales are indeed legal.
It's disengenuous for the City Attorney to use this as a means to shut down all dispensaries in Los Angeles. It's not appropriate for the City Attorney to use this ruling alone to impose a ban.
The city of L.A. would do far better if it figured out a way to allow facilities to remain open and provide a means to comply with state law, as opposed to just shutting them all down.