The California Supreme Court ruled unanimously today that cities and counties have the right to ban medical marijuana dispensaries within their borders, despite the existence of a state law that protects patients using the drug.
The court said the scope of Proposition 215, or the Compassionate Use Act approved by state voters in 1996, and a related state law is "limited and circumscribed" and does not prevent local governments from prohibiting marijuana storefronts.
The Danville Town Council unanimously voted to adopt and extend its original 2009 medical marijuana ban in September 2011; the added section 32-94 of the Danville municipal Code bans medical marijuana dispensaries within Danville town limits.
The ban will prohibits dispensaries and forbids conditional land use permits, variances or licenses for distribution. Town officials cited reports that crime increases in cities with medical marijuana dispensaries and deemed the ban necessary to protect the public health and welfare of Danville residents.
"I have not heard from anyone in the community that we should open a dispensary," then-Vice Mayor Candace Andersen said. "Quite the contrary, I have heard great opposition in our local blogs."
Currently, 193 California cities -- including more than 40 in the greater Bay Area -- ban medical marijuana dispensaries, according to statistics compiled by Americans for Safe Access, a marijuana advocacy group.
Twenty counties, including Contra Costa, prohibit dispensaries in unincorporated areas.
The court issued its ruling in a lawsuit in which a Riverside dispensary known as the Inland Empire Patient's Health and Wellness Center was challenging a city zoning law prohibiting such facilities.
Proposition 215 and the state's Medical Marijuana Program law of 2003 protect seriously ill patients who have a doctor's recommendation from being prosecuted under state law for using the drug for medical purposes.
Lawyers for the Riverside dispensary unsuccessfully argued that local bans should not be allowed because they conflicted with the two state laws.
But the court, in a decision written by Justice Marvin Baxter, said the state measures are merely "incremental steps toward freer access to
medical marijuana" and do not require local governments to allow dispensaries.
Baxter wrote that nothing in either law limits the authority of a city or county "to regulate the use of its land, including the authority to
provide that facilities for the distribution of medical marijuana will not be permitted to operate within its borders."
Americans for Safe Access Chief Counsel Joseph Elford said, "This ruling maintains the status quo" since it upholds existing bans.
At the same time, Elford said, the decision "seemingly allows localities to choose to regulate marijuana dispensaries" and thus permit them to exist.
Forty-four California cities currently have regulations that allow dispensaries, including Oakland, Martinez, San Jose, San Francisco and Santa Rosa, according to Americans for Safe Access.
Ten counties, including Alameda, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz and Sonoma, also have such laws.