On Tuesday, the California Supreme Court will begin hearing a case as to whether cities can legally use zoning laws to prohibit medical marijuana dispensaries from operating within city limits. After hearing oral arguments, the court will have 90 days to issue their final ruling.
The high court began hearing oral arguments from attorneys representing Inland Empire Patient’s Health and Wellness Center (a dispensary) and the city of Riverside.
Attorney T. Peter Pierce explained, “The Supreme Court is going to bring clarity and uniformity to the law because we now have some courts of appeal that have ruled in favor of cities in these issues and some that have ruled in favor of medical marijuana dispensaries. Trial courts are feeling like they don’t have concrete guidelines and have been all over the place on this issue.”
Over 20 counties and 175 cities in California have used zoning laws to ban medical marijuana dispensaries, according to Americans for Safe Access.
Riverside officials made the move to ban collectives in January 2009, when they sent letters to the city’s dispensary owners telling them that the establishments were prohibited under the city’s zoning laws.
The dispensary operators who were told to close maintained that they had always been upfront with the city regarding the intent of their businesses and operated legally under Prop 215.
A trial judge sided with the city in November 2011 and the medical marijuana dispensaries were closed. The dispensary owner filed an appeal with the Fourth District Appellate Court in Riverside, who upheld the use of zoning laws to ban collectives. The case was then appealed to the state Supreme Court, which then agreed to take on the case.
Riverside collective owner Lanny Swerdlow told the press of the importance of this case, stating, “The collective/cooperative system is the only legal way in which a patient can obtain their medicine. If we lose this case, that means cities can ban and most cities will ban. That means most patients will have to turn to criminals in order to obtain their medicine.”
The Supreme Court decided to hear the case in January 2012, along with similar cases from Long Beach and Upland. “They both raise the same legal issues, which is whether or not cities are preempted under the Compassionate Use Act from enacting bans on medical marijuana dispensaries as a matter of zoning,” Pierce explained.
This case will hopefully bring a lot of clarity to dispensary owners, city officials, and patients alike.