Can local governments in California ban marijuana dispensaries, as the city of Los Angeles seems poised to do soon?
California's 2nd District Court of Appeal appeared to have said no in what medical access proponents are interpreting as a "landmark decision" this week.
In County of Los Angeles v. Alternative Medicinal Cannabis Collective (AMCC), the court said that L.A. County's ban on pot shops in unincorporated areas "directly contradicts the Legislature's intent." Wow. But it ain't over yet:
The Tuesday decision could still be reviewed by the California Supreme Court, which would then have the chance of overturning it, affirming it or ignoring it.
Still, the pro-med contingent was elated. In a statement sent out over the holiday, Americans for Safe Access chief counsel Joe Elford said:
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.
More specifically, the court said that, because the state health and safety code on the matter uses the world "dispensary" and references the concept of a "storefront or mobile retail outlet," pot shops as they exist in California are generally legal.
That would contradict L.A. City Attorney Carmen Trutanich, L.A. County District Attorney Steve Cooley and LAPD officials, who have argued that California's medical marijuana law never explicitly allowed the kind of retail pot environment we see in Los Angeles.
They say that state law only allows the nonprofit sharing of pot among the seriously ill.
That would, in turn, contradict the opinion of the guy who wrote the law, former state Sen. John Vasconcellos, who told us, in fact, lawmakers wanted to allow a for-profit cannabis-selling environment when they passed his SB 420 bill.
Anyway, the court said this:
... The repeated use of the term 'dispensary' throughout [Health and Safety Code section 11362.768] and the reference in subdivision (e) to a 'storefront or mobile retail outlet' make it abundantly clear that the medical marijuana collectives authorized by section 11362.775 are permitted by state law to perform a dispensary function.
... [L.A.] County's total, per se nuisance ban against medical marijuana dispensaries directly contradicts the Legislature's intent.
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ASA's Elford called out L.A. City Attorney Trutanich directly, saying:
The AMCC decision puts a giant wrench into the plans of City Attorney Trutanich to persuade the City Council to enact a ban. The proposal introduced by Council member Huizar to ban dispensaries, which appeared to be favored by many of his colleagues, now faces an uncertain fate. Patient advocates have been pushing for a more sensible alternative ...
We'll be watching.