At a time when cities and counties in California are banning or threatening to ban medical marijuana dispensaries, the Second District Court of Appeal in California came down with a landmark published decision yesterday in County of Los Angeles v. Alternative Medicinal Cannabis Collective (AMCC), which clarified the legislative intent of SB420, now codified in California Health and Safety Code Sections 11362.7 et seq. The Appellate court clearly affirms the legality of medical marijuana dispensaries under state law, and rejected bans imposed by municipalities. This is extremely timely as the city of Los Angeles, Long Beach and other surrounding cities and municipalities are contemplating outright banning medical marijuana dispensaries in their communities.
In particular, the AMCC court held that Los Angeles County's "complete ban" on medical marijuana is "preempted" by state law and, therefore, void. The AMCC decision reverses a preliminary junction granted to the County by the Los Angeles Superior Court in May 2011.
More specifically, the court examines whether dispensaries are legal under state law. The AMCC court ruled that, "[T]he repeated use of the term 'dispensary' throughout [Health and Safety Code section 11362.768] and the reference in subdivision (e) to a 'storefront or mobile retail outlet' make it abundantly clear that the medical marijuana collectives authorized by section 11362.775 are permitted by state law to perform a dispensary function." The AMCC further held that, "[Los Angeles] County's total, per se nuisance ban against medical marijuana dispensaries directly contradicts the Legislature's intent," and called that contradiction "direct, patent, obvious, and palpable."
The overwhelming victory for the medical marijuana community comes at a time when patients are being threatened by overzealous city and county official is being denied access to their medication. While the court was clear in stating that cities and counties have the "authority to regulate the particular manner and location in which a business may operate," and outright ban is prohibited under Calfornia law.
This landmark decision is riding on the coattails of numerous state appellate court rulings concerning medical marijuana ordinances or lack thereof that have have been granted review by the California Supreme Court, including Pack v. City of Long Beach, which addresses how localities can regulate distribution, and City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patient's Health and Wellness, which deals with whether municipalities can permanently ban distribution. The California Supreme Court could also decide to review the AMCC ruling, which it will decide in the next several weeks.
According to Joe Elford, Chief Counsel with Americans for Safe Access, "The court of appeal could not have been clearer in expressing that medical marijuana dispensaries are legal under state law, and that municipalities have no right to ban them." Elford opines that "This landmark decision should have a considerable impact on how the California Supreme Court rules in the various dispensary cases it's currently reviewing."
This should have a direct effect on the scheduled vote by the Los Angeles City Council slated for July 24th in which the city will be voting on a ban similar to the one in the AMCC case that was just struck down. According to Bob Selan, attorney and CEO of Kush Magazine, City Attorney Trutanich's attempts to persuade the City Council to enact a ban have just been obliterated by the Court of Appeals in his jurisdiction." Council member Huizar's proposal to ban dispensaries, which appeared to be favored by many of his colleagues, now appears to be moot. Patient advocates have been pushing for a more palitable alternative being proposed by Council members Koretz and Wesson that would create “limited immunity” for a certain number of dispensaries in the city.
Medical marijuana patients and activist hope this will send shockwaves statewide to cities and counties that currently have imposed outright medical marijuana dispensary bans. Hopefully, the opinion will assist municipalities in creating zoning ordinances that acknowledge medical marijuana dispensaries are protected under the laws of the state of California.