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Marijuana: California Supreme Court upholds local pot shop bans like ones in Colorado

States across the country, including Alaska, are coming up with their own versions of Amendment 64, which allows adults 21 and over in Colorado to use and possess small amounts of cannabis. But if the authors of those measures want to make sure retail marijuana operations are legal in every community from border to border, they'll have to be mighty explicit -- and even that may not be enough, as witnessed by a California Supreme Court ruling that allows local communities to ban pot shops.

The ability of local municipalities in Colorado to create ordinances forbidding weed retail outlets was enshrined in HB-1284, the 2010 law that regulated the medical marijuana industry.

Likewise, Amendment 64 includes language that allows cities and counties to opt out of such sales if they wish -- and plenty of them do. As we've reported, Douglas County introduced a pot-shop retail ban last November, mere weeks after the election and more than a year (at least) before such enterprises can legally exist.

The situation was less cut and dried in California, where the Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center began fighting the City of Riverside over its ban years ago. In January 2009, according to the ruling on view below in its entirety, Riverside's Community Development Department notified the dispensary's owner that his operation was prohibited under local zoning ordinances. Then, in May 2010, the city filed a formal complaint against the owners "for injunctive relief to abate a public nuisance."

Since then, the case has been winding its way through the legal system -- but the California Supreme Court's decision is likely to be the last word. Penned by Judge Marvin Baxter for a unanimous court, the ruling runs 44 pages, but its tone is set in the first two sentences.

"The issue in this case is whether California's medical marijuana statutes preempt a local ban on facilities that distribute medical marijuana," Baxter writes. "We conclude they do not."

The ruling goes on to support the right of communities to determine whether medical marijuana retail businesses are appropriate for particular jurisdictions. But it also alludes to the continuing illegality of marijuana in all forms in the view of the federal government.

California laws allowing medical marijuana "are careful and limited forays into the subject of medical marijuana, aimed at striking a delicate balance in an area that remains controversial, and involves sensitivity in federal-state relations," Baxter writes. "We must take these laws as we find them, and their purposes and provisions are modest. They remove state-level criminal and civil sanctions from specified medical marijuana activities, but they do not establish a comprehensive state system of legalized medical marijuana; or grant a right of convenient access to marijuana for medicinal use; or override the zoning, licensing, and police powers of local jurisdictions; or mandate local accommodation of medical marijuana cooperatives, collectives, or dispensaries.

"Of course, nothing prevents future efforts by the Legislature, or by the People, to adopt a different approach," Baxter adds. But thus far, most of those trying to legalize marijuana, medical or otherwise, in their particular states have not moved in this direction. The philosophy of Amendment 64 and the measures around the country that are emulating it appears to be: Let's establish a lawful foothold for marijuana first, and worry about whether everyone in the state has equal access to it afterward.

Here's the California Supreme Court ruling:

California Supreme Court Ruling Allowing Cities to Ban Medical Marijuana Outlets

More from our Marijuana archive circa November 2012: "Amendment 64: Douglas County to ban retail marijuana sales a year before they could happen."


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