The California Supreme Court this week threw out a court case that was part of the legal rationale for banning medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles and Long Beach.
The court held that Pack v Long Beach is moot. So does that mean L.A.'s pot shop ban, which takes effect Sept. 6, is dead?
Not so fast. While medical advocates were happy about the decision, the L.A. City Attorney's office told the Weekly that the high court's move changes nothing:
Office spokesman Frank Mateljan argues that Pack's main ruling, that federal law outlawing marijuana in any form preempts city regulation, was neither endorsed nor struck down by the court, even though it said the Long Beach case is moot:
The Supreme Court did not opine on the legal issue presented in Pack. The Pack case was decided by our appellate court, the Second District Court of Appeal. Every California lawyer should anticipate that the Second District Court of Appeal will continue to prohibit cities from affirmatively regulating medical marijuana collectives, consistent with their federal preemption ruling in Pack.
He notes that the plaintiff in the case abandoned a challenge to the federal preemption in the case and that Long Beach went ahead with a ban that had nothing to do with the case.
Medical proponents, however, declared victory, arguing that the moot status of Pack should give L.A.'s ban proponents pause because, as Americans for Safe Access spokesman Kris Hermes told us, the basis of the ordinance has been “pulled out from under the city.”
L.A. went forward with its ban after some on the City Council, including Jose Huizar, argued that it was fruitless to try to regulate pot shops if, as the lower court ruled in Pack, cities like Long Beach couldn't do so (in the way they were doing it) because marijuana is a federally outlaw drug.
Hermes said the ruling leaves open the possibility of yet another legal challenge to the city's ban:
They used Pack as a pretext to ban outright. But really Pack is not even on the table anymore.
However, Hermes seemed to invest more hope in a referendum headed for City Hall that would overturn L.A.'s ban. He said organizers, including ASA, could turn in enough signatures in two weeks.
That would force the city to put the matter before voters or overturn its own ban.
While the effort probably won't buy enough time to stop the ban from going into effect Sept. 6 (the city would have 30 days from the times the voter signatures are validated to decide what to do), it could force the council to reconsider dispensary prohibition this fall.