Re-Potted: Cities Can Now Ban Pot Clubs, But Dispensaries May Still Benefit

A major roadblock in the way of medical cannabis reform in California was removed Monday when the California Supreme Court issued a long-awaited ruling, which says that cities can ban pot clubs. For now.

At least 200 places across the state, including San Mateo County and the East Bay's tonier cities, have not taken kindly to the state's medical marijuana scene and have banned pot clubs. They are within their rights to do so, the court ruled on Monday. This means the Southern California dispensary that fought a ban in Riverside will be shut down, and other cities and counties could follow suit.

That might sound bad to cannabis advocates; however, the court did point out that medical cannabis dispensaries are perfectly legal in California. What's more, nothing is stopping the Legislature or the electorate from going further and crafting a law that says bans aren't allowed.

Lawmakers in Sacramento have tried and failed to reform medical marijuana before. An oft-cited reason for the failure was the pending decision in City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center. The Supreme Court's move was a prerequisite before a meaningful regulatory state framework could be crafted, the story went.

In its ruling, the Court said that the state's two major laws which allow the medical use and distribution of cannabis — the 1996 Compassionate Use Act and the 2003 Medical Marijuana Program Act — prohibit state and local law enforcement from upholding the laws that make marijuana illegal. These do not, however, stop local governments from putting laws on their books that declare medical marijuana dispensaries a nuisance, the court ruled.

But the Court may in fact be pushing the marijuana movement along. To wit:

“We have consistently maintained that the CUA and the MMP are but incremental steps toward freer access to medical marijuana, and the scope of these statutes is limited and circumscribed,” the court wrote in its unanimous decision.

Meanwhile, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano wants to put dispensaries under Alcoholic Beverage Control authority, while state Sen. Mark Leno and Sen. President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg want to affirm dispensaries' rights to take money for pot.

The court decision maintains “the status quo,” as Americans for Safe Access pointed out in a release Monday, but leaves the door open for things to be changed.

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