Calif. Supreme Court upholds Riverside pot ban


The city of Riverside's ban on storefront medical marijuana dispensaries is perfectly legal, according to a ruling today by the California Supreme Court, which unanimously affirmed the authority of any municipality to declare that pot distribution facilities "will not be permitted."

The court's 44-page ruling was in response to an appeal by Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center Inc., which sought to challenge zoning regulations put in place in Riverside prohibiting cannabis clubs or collectives from operating outlets where individuals with prescriptions for medical marijuana could purchase it.

Around 200 jurisdictions throughout California have such bans on their books, including Riverside County and the inland cities of Corona, Hemet, Moreno Valley, Murrieta, Norco, Rancho Mirage, Redlands, San Bernardino, San Jacinto, Temecula and Wildomar.

The Riverside case was argued in February. Five other cases stemming from challenges to regulations against medical marijuana dispensaries are still pending before the court.

At the heart of the plaintiffs' arguments is that voter-approved Proposition 215 -- the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 -- guaranteed qualifying patients access to marijuana for treatment of illnesses, but cities and counties were stymieing those efforts and trying to preempt state law with local ordinances.

The court observed in its decision that the Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center believes Riverside's "total ban on facilities that cultivate and distribute medical marijuana ... is in conflict with" the Compassionate Use Act and the Medical Marijuana Program.

"We disagree," the justices' ruling states. "Nothing ... expressly or impliedly limits the inherent authority of a local jurisdiction to regulate its own land, including the authority to provide that facilities for the distribution of medical marijuana will not be permitted to operate within its borders."

The Medical Marijuana Program, adopted by the Legislature in 2004, offered protections for legitimate medical marijuana recipients and their caregivers, but left it to local governments to determine what types of cannabis facilities are permitted.

Generally, patients and their primary caregivers, who have been furnished a prescription from a qualified physician and have county-issued cards identifying them as authorized medical marijuana users or providers, are allowed to possess eight ounces of dried marijuana and can maintain six mature cannabis plants, or a dozen immature ones.

Dispensaries often sell a variety of cannabis products, from pre-rolled cigarettes to brownies.

The court's ruling footnotes a Senate Committee on Public Safety study finding that storefront dispensaries are routine targets for "robberies and burglaries" and that the facilities "affect the neighborhood quality of life by attracting loitering and marijuana smoking on or near the premises."

The Riverside ordinance prohibiting dispensaries cites the federal Controlled Substances Act, which does not make allowances for the use of marijuana, even for medicinal reasons.

The wellness center opened its doors in early 2009 at 647 N. Main St. and was ordered closed by the city in May 2010 after it was declared a public nuisance.

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