Independence Day arrived on July 2 this year for California medical marijuana dispensary operators and the patients who obtain medicine from them after the Second District Court of Appeal ruled on Monday that state law protects medicinal cannabis dispensaries and local cities and counties cannot ban them.
The case that spawned the decision was County of Los Angeles v Alternative Medicinal Cannabis Collective and the appellate court explained how they logically arrived at their ruling by a careful (though frankly obvious) perusal of a particular section of California’s medical pot law:
“The repeated use of the term 'dispensary' throughout [Health and Safety Code (HSC) 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."
Just as the U.S. government uses the argument that “federal law preempts state law” to justify their raids on pot dispensaries, here we have state law preempting any city and county ordinances that would seek to completely ban dispensaries. While HSC 11362.768 does allow cities and counties to restrict locales of dispensaries (for instance, away from schools), it does not grant them power to ban them outright.
Another positive outcome of this ruling is that the Los Angeles City Council was expected to ban all dispensaries on July 24, but such a ban is now prohibited by the appellate court ruling. Unfortunately, this state ruling will not likely have any impact on the federal government’s aforementioned crackdown on medical pot that has been ongoing since October ’11 in which a reported 500 to 650 dispensaries (out of an estimated 1400 total) have been shut down. But for those dispensaries that remain, especially in heavily populated Los Angeles, this appellate court ruling was like an early fireworks show for pot patients and providers statewide.