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It’s somewhat ironic that the California Supreme Court heard oral arguments about the legality of city-wide medical marijuana dispensary (MMD) bans in San Francisco, of all places.
Tuesday, judges from the state’s highest court held a special outreach session at the University of San Francisco School of Law, within a mile of the city’s famous Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. The first case on the docket for the day: Riverside v. Inland Empire Patient’s Health and Wellness Center.
Though California voters legalized medical marijuana use in 1996, not all of the Golden State's communities welcome MMDs. Some cities, like Riverside, have banned dispensaries through zoning ordinances. Both patients and dispensary operators have challenged those ordinances, and lost.
Riverside was the first city to win a case challenging a city-wide marijuana dispensary ban, according to The San Francisco Chronicle.
A California appellate court ruled in 2011 that California law does not preempt cities or counties from implementing a marijuana dispensary ban. That court also concluded that Inland Empire's MMD violated Riverside's valid and enforceable zoning ordinance banning dispensaries. In turn, the code violation constituted a nuisance per se subject to abatement. Since Riverside was likely to prevail on the merits at trial, the trial court did not abuse its discretion issuing a preliminary injunction enjoining Inland Empire from operating its MMD in Riverside.
This week, Inland Empire's attorney, J. David Nick, told the state's justices that the earlier ruling against Inland Empire was wrong because the Riverside zoning ordinance contradicts state law. When Associate Justice Marvin Baxter asked, "If the legislature wanted to prevent localities from banning the dispensaries, why didn't they say so expressly?" Nick responded that the legislature had done so by directing local governments to regulate -- not prohibit -- dispensaries, Reuters reports.
That's not to say that the justices were convinced. "The legislature knows how to say, 'Thou shall not ban dispensaries,'" Associate Justice Ming Chin countered. "They didn't say that."
The California Supreme Court will issue a ruling by May, Reuters reports.