Legal by State Law but Banned by Locals – Local California Governments Now Have Authority to Ban Medical Marijuana Shops

On Monday, the California Supreme Court ruled that local cities and counties can ban medical marijuana dispensaries even though they are legal by state law. This unanimous decision came after a 2010 legal challenge to a ban instituted by the city of Riverside. Lawmakers in the city used their zoning authority to define storefront medical marijuana shops as public nuances. In return, the Inland Empire’s Patient’s Health and Wellness Center sued to stop Riverside from shutting it down based on the state law objective of providing access to medical marijuana for those who are seriously ill in a uniform matter throughout the state.

Out of the 18 states that allow the use of medical marijuana, California is the only one where residents can obtain a doctor’s recommendation for the drug for any ailment that the doctor sees fit. In other states patients must have serious conditions such as AIDS or glaucoma. California is also the only state that does not have a system for regulating growers and sellers. An attorney for the Drug Policy Alliance stated that local governments will stop enacting these bans once the state has stepped up to take responsibility to regulate.

Medical marijuana advocates have been arguing that allowing local governments to bar dispensaries defeats the intent of the medical marijuana law that state voters passed about 17 years ago. After the ruling on Monday, advocates blamed the absence of the state and the failure of local authorities to take on operating guidelines that fall short of banning dispensaries. An estimated 2000 California jurisdictions have already put bans on dispensaries.  In fact the estimated number of dispensaries has dropped significantly as these communities and even federal authorities have cracked down on these businesses.

medical marijuana

Some say that this decision is likely to further reduce the network of storefront medical marijuana shops, but others hope it will fuel the efforts to have the state of California regulate the industry.  But so far the government has yet to regulate, and these stores remain banned in Riverside and other communities across California.

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