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California Supreme Court Allows Cities To Ban Pot Shops

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Jars full of medical marijuana at a dispensary. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Jars full of medical marijuana at a dispensary. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

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SAN FRANCISCO (CBS/AP) – California’s highest court has ruled that local governments have legal authority to ban storefront pot shops within their borders.

The California Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday that cities and counties have the right to ban medical marijuana dispensaries within their borders, despite the existence of a state law that protects patients using the drug.

The court said the scope of Proposition 215, or the Compassionate Use Act approved by state voters in 1996, and a related state law is “limited and circumscribed” and does not prevent local governments from prohibiting marijuana storefronts.

Currently, 193 California cities—including more than 40 in the greater Bay Area—ban medical marijuana dispensaries, according to statistics compiled by Americans for Safe Access, a marijuana advocacy group.

The court issued its ruling in a lawsuit in which a Riverside dispensary was challenging a city zoning law that prohibited such facilities.

Justice Marvin Baxter wrote, “Nothing in the (two laws) expressly or impliedly limits the inherent authority of a local jurisdiction, by its own ordinances, to regulate the use of its land, including the authority to provide that facilities for the distribution of medical marijuana will not be permitted to operate within its borders.”

Marijuana advocates had argued that allowing local governments to bar dispensaries thwarts the intent of the medical marijuana law that voter’s passed nearly 17 years ago. On Monday, they blamed the absence of state oversight and the failure of local authorities to adopt operating guidelines that fall short of banning dispensaries for the court’s decision.

“Today’s decision allowing localities to ban will likely lead to reduced patient access in California unless the state finally steps up to provide regulatory oversight and guidance,” said Tamar Todd, senior staff attorney for the Drug Policy Alliance. “Localities will stop enacting bans once the state has stepped up and assumed its responsibility to regulate.”

Two bills are pending in the California Legislature that seek to establish a new statewide system for regulating and licensing the medical marijuana industry, and to clarify the role of dispensaries in it. Advocates hope to see language that would make it harder for local governments to outlaw dispensaries by requiring voter approval for any bans, Drug Policy Alliance Policy Manager Amanda Reiman said.

Activists also are in the early stages of planning a ballot initiative that would legalize the recreational use of marijuana and regulate it like alcohol, as voters in Washington and Colorado did last year.

Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, and the U.S. attorneys have threatened to seize the property of landlords who lease space to the shops. Hundreds of dispensary operators have since been evicted or closed voluntarily.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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