Flickr photo by The Truth About
It may be a strange notion to the residents of California’s largest cities, where pot dispensaries are well-established (and increasingly regulated), but advocates are still struggling to find a legal magic bullet to safeguard access to medical marijuana for qualified patients elsewhere in the state.
Last week’s long-awaited ruling by a state appellate court on a case involving a ban on medical marijuana dispensaries did little to unknot California’s pot paradox: while the total number of dispensaries continues to grow, so too is the number of cities and counties banning them.
Advocates had hoped the case involving the city of Anaheim would resolve one long-standing legal dispute: Do restrictions on marijuana dispensaries conflict with Proposition 215 and subsequent state laws that allow marijuana use with a doctor’s recommendation?
But the 4th District Court of Appeal in Santa Ana essentially punted, saying the lower court hadn’t addressed whether local laws could trump various provisions established by the state.
“As anxious as we, the parties, and amici curiae are to reach this important and interesting question of state preemption, this case in its present posture is not the occasion to do so,” the court wrote. The panel sent the case back to a lower court for more hearings.
Advocates did score one victory, however. The appeals chamber rejected Anaheim’s argument that federal drug laws preempt the state’s medical marijuana rules.
“This opinion is very, very important from our point of view,” Anthony Curiale, the attorney for the dispensary that filed suit, told the Los Angeles Times.
William Panzer, a prominent defense attorney who co-authored Prop. 215, said the ruling on federal pre-emption was important, but represents just a small victory for the medical marijuana movement.
“The court sidestepped the big question of what’s legal and what isn’t legal. We still don’t have a clear distribution model,” Panzer said.
Those legal questions will not necessarily be resolved if voters approve a fall ballot measure to legalize personal use of marijuana. The Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act leaves the decision to legalize sales and large-scale cultivation to local cities and counties, virtually guaranteeing that some municipalities will seek to keep bans in place.
According to Americans for Safe Access, the number of cities and counties that have imposed bans or moratoria on medical marijuana dispensaries has nearly doubled since 2007, from 139 to 258.