Today's California Supreme Court Decision Gives Cities the Right to Shut Down Marijuana Dispensaries

The ruling came down to concerns over land use, not weed.

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Gordon Swanson/Shutterstock.com

The California Supreme Court today ruled that local governments in the state have the right to prevent medical marijuana dispensaries from operating within their jurisdictions, clearing the way for new restrictions in a state known for relatively liberal medical marijuana regulations.

The 1996 "Compassionate Use Act" made medical marijuana legal in the state, and a 2003 bill created an ID program for medical marijuana patients and caregivers. As the Associated Press reports: "Of the 18 states that allow the medical use of marijuana, California is the only one where residents can obtain a doctor's recommendation to consume it for any ailment the physician sees fit as opposed to for only conditions such as AIDS and glaucoma. The state also is alone in not having a system for regulating growers and sellers."

But the court's decision today came down to concerns over land use, not medical marijuana. The court opinion [PDF] notes: "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."

Basically, the court ruled the city of Riverside (the plaintiff in the case) has the right to prohibit dispensaries within its borders. The city's zoning laws ban dispensaries and "may be abated as a public nuisance," as the court opinion explains. The city argued the defendant in the case, Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center, Inc., was in violation of city law.

Americans for Safe Access, a medical marijuana advocacy group, lists 193 cities in the state that have dispensary bans (last updated on March 1.) This ruling supports this right.

Medical marijuana patients could feel the effects of this ruling differently across the state. In theory, it's conceivable that a patient could have legal access to marijuana (according to state law) without practical access to a dispensary.

Top image: Gordon Swanson/Shutterstock.com

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