Feb. 2, 2012 04:02

Supreme Court of California to Review Recent Medical Marijuana Appellate Decisions

The Supreme Court of California has finally decided to step up to the plate and review several recent major medical marijuana cases, which have come out of our state’s appellate court system. The Supreme Court’s decision could be rendered by the end of the year, and will have a major impact on the California’s medical marijuana community and will set forth how cities can regulate collectives.

One of the cases that the Court will review is the recent decision in the case of City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Health and Wellness Center. The Riverside decision was a major blow to California’s patients because, in this case, the court of appeals ruled in favor of the City of Riverside by holding that the city’s ban on medical marijuana was constitutional and not preempted by California’s Compassionate Use Act and Medical Marijuana Program Act.

The Riverside case has had a devastating effect on the medical marijuana community. Many cities, and their attorneys, have been using the Riverside case as precedent to persuade judges that the collectives they’ve targeted should be ordered to close. Now that the Supreme Court has decided to review this case, it can no longer be cited as good law. This means the case can no longer be used by city attorneys in court to convince the judge that a ban is constitutional. Without this case in attorneys’ arsenal, it should make it more difficult for cities to obtain injunction orders to close collectives.

Another major case that will be reviewed by the Supreme Court is the recent ruling in Pack vs. City of Long Beach. The Pack court held that Long Beach’s permitting effort was unconstitutional because it was preempted, or trumped, by federal law. The court in Pack reasoned that that the City was acting illegally by authorizing patients to do something that was explicitly illegal under federal law. By offering permits and business licenses, the city’s ordinance was in conflict with federal law.

However, the Pack court stated in their opinion that Long Beach could be in compliance with federal law if they severed, or cut out, the permitting aspect of the ordinance. The court went on to state that it believed the city would be not be violating federal law if they required the collectives to register instead of giving them a permit in exchange for exorbitant permit fees. Notably, the court stated that the city could be in compliance with federal law if they instead placed “further restrictions” on medical marijuana collectives, for example, restricting the collectives from operating in certain location as well as regulating hours of operation or who could be a collective operator.

We believe the Supreme Court will do the right thing and rule that cities and counties cannot ban collectives, but instead can place “further restrictions” on collectives, such as those cited above. This would be a huge victory for patients and safe access in California. In the interim, we will still have to deal with the federal crackdowns, but hopefully with “further restrictions” will come more clear guidance on how collectives can function without a constant threat of being shut down.


Attorney Damian Nassiri is the founding partner of the Cannabis Law Group, a law firm dedicated to the rights of patients, collectives and growers. His firm offers consultations and nonprofit incorporations to those who are interested in starting their own medical marijuana collective. You can reach Cannabis Law Group at (714) 937-2050 or visit the law firm’s website at www.cannabislawgroup.com.
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