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California’s Highest Court Extinguishes Marijuana Dispensary Hopes


The California Supreme Court today decided that cities and counties may enact and enforce zoning ordinances that completely ban medical marijuana dispensaries within their geographical borders.

In 1996, California voters approved Proposition 215, also known as the Compassionate Use Act of 1996. Proposition 215 modified state law to allow people with chronic illnesses the “legal right to obtain or grow, and use marijuana for medical purposes when recommended by a doctor.” Since 1996, the law has been interpreted and revised on numerous occasions allowing for the proliferation of marijuana dispensaries.

In an effort to eliminate the sale of marijuana, through these purportedly legal dispensaries, some counties and cities have enacted zoning ordinances that completely prohibit these dispensaries within their borders. For the last few years, however, California appellate courts have limited the enforceabililty of these zoning ordinances and prohibited the counties and municipalities from completely banning dispensaries within their borders. That has all changed now with the high court’s ruling.

Justice Marvin Baxter stated in the court’s decision that:

“While some counties and cities might consider themselves well suited to accommodating medical marijuana dispensaries, conditions in other communities might lead to the reasonable decision that such facilities within their borders, even if carefully sited, well managed, and closely monitored, would present unacceptable local risks and burdens,”

The court further stated that the current statutes:

“merely declare that the conduct they describe cannot lead to arrest or conviction, or be abated as a nuisance, as violations of enumerated provisions of the Health and Safety Code.”

“Nothing in the CUA or the MMP 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,”

Now its back to the drawing board for proponents of medical marijuana in California. The likely focus of their attention now shifts to the state legislature to pass laws that limit local counties and municipalities from unreasonably restricting medical marijuana dispensaries.

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