After much anticipation, the California Supreme Court agreed this week to review how cities and counties regulate medical marijuana.
The High Court issued an order indicating its intent to review two controversial medical marijuana cases, Pack v. City of Long Beach and As a result of this week's decision, both cases have been vacated in anticipation of the High Court's ruling.
In reviewing the cases, the state Supreme Court will consider whether local governments can ban medical marijuana dispensaries given that the drug is legal under California voter-approved Proposition 215. The court will also review the continued conflict between state and federal law. Under federal law, marijuana is illegal.
The Pack decision held that some dispensary regulations may be preempted by federal law and the Riverside decision held that municipalities can legally ban dispensaries altogether.
The Supreme Court has not yet scheduled oral arguments, and it will likely be years before rulings are issued.
In a Jan. 19 statement from Joe Elford, Chief Counsel of the country's most vocal medical marijuana advocacy group, Americans for Safe Access, this week’s decision was lauded.
"These cases were very problematic for patients and their ability to safely and legally access a medication that works for them," Elford said. "We're very pleased that local governments will now be unable to use appellate court decisions to deny patients access to medical marijuana in their own communities."
Arguing that Pack was erroneously decided, ASA along with the American Civil Liberties Union, the Drug Policy Alliance, and the County of Santa Cruz filed a brief on December 12 requesting that the California Supreme Court review the case.
“Although the Pack decision, issued in October of last year contradicted other appellate court rulings, several cities and counties across California have used it as a reason to suspend regulatory ordinances or completely ban local distribution,” Elford said.
The Supreme Court's decision to vacate Pack v. City of Long Beach could have a major impact on CD 14 Councilmember José Huizar's effort to ban dispensaries in Los Angeles.
Huizar--bolstered by some law enforcement officials and community leaders who have argued that Northeast L.A.'s dispensaries have negatively impacted residents' quality of life--had argued that Pack's findings invalidated the city's medical marijuana ordinance.
The ruling in Pack declared that states are only allowed to decriminalize marijuana, not regulate it.
Huizar's motion would indefinitely shutter Los Angeles' approximately 300 medical marijuana dispensaries, while still allowing authorized patients to grow their own marijuana, or have a certified caregiver do so for them.
Superior Court Judge Anthony Mohr ruled on October 14 that L.A.’s marijuana ordinance is valid and that its enforcement cannot be challenged by as many as 29 dispensaries that had sued the City over the issue. But Mohr also advised the City to revisit the ordinance to determine whether it can withstand a preemptory challenge in light of the Pack ruling and the fact that the L.A. ordinance has a provision for a lottery for dispensaries and other regulatory mechanisms.
“Given that we were advised by our City Attorney that we currently have an unenforceable ordinance, we are in a place where we were before we had an ordinance [when] we had a proliferation of dispensaries throughout the city, and with that proliferation came an impact on the quality of life in local communities,” Huizar said when
Huizar's motion was recently by the City Council's Public Safety Committee.
Patch has contacted Huizar's office and is awaiting comment on how the Supreme Court decision will affect his effort to ban dispensaries in Los Angeles.