Thursday, January 19, 2012

Turd Stew Clarity on the Way?


It's been an exciting couple weeks in the world of medical marijuana.  I've been so busy trying to save the world that I've neglected some of these updates.  Well, here they are:

As previously discussed, California's medical marijuana laws (affectionately referred to on this blog as "turd stew") are a jumbled mess of inconsistent, contradictory and nebulous codes and statutes.  While this author strongly supports ending all marijuana prohibition, it has become increasingly clear that the MMJ system here in the state is in serious need of some urgent legislative attention. 

To recap: California voters overwhelmingly approved Prop. 215 back in 1996.  That measure allowed seriously ill Californians to use, possess and cultivate their own marijuana with a doctor's recommendation or approval.  A few years later, that law was expanded upon with SB420.  SB420 allowed for the creation of patient collectives, whereby groups of MMJ patients could pool their resources and skills to help each other gain access to their medicine. 

Since the passage of SB420, storefront collectives have sprouted like weeds (pun intended), creating a whole new set of unintended consequences and unforeseen legal issues.  Interestingly, SB420 makes no mention of the word "dispensary".  The authors of SB420 never foresaw storefront retail outlets opening in such concentrations.  They could not have imagined the multi-billion-dollar industry that medical marijuana has grown into. 

Cities and counties have grappled with how to control these new dispensaries using their zoning powers.  Court battles have raged between municipalities and patient collectives.  Recently, the feds have joined in the proverbial fray using the DEA to raid local pot shops and to threaten owners of buildings who lease space to MMJ dispensaries. 

In late December, CA Attorney General Kamala Harris sent a letter to the state's legislature asking for clarification on the legality of the state's hundreds (if not thousands) of storefront marijuana dispensaries.  Even California's top attorney doesn't know whether or not state law allows for the operation of storefront marijuana retail centers.  If she can't even wrap her head around the law, there's not much hope for the rest of us. 

In the last week, the CA State Supreme Court has agreed to hear 4 cases related to the unresolved legal issues surrounding medical marijuana.  Their decisions could finally grant some clarity to the area, or they could muddle things even more than they're already muddled. 

First, the court has agreed to hear an appeal out of Riverside.  The Riverside County Board of Supervisors voted some time last year to ban all MMJ dispensaries in the county.  Plaintiffs are a group of dispensary owners who are challenging the authority of municipalities to issue such blanket prohibitions. In a related case, plaintiffs in Upland are challenging a local ordinance there that mimicked the language of the Riverside statutes.

The State Supreme Court has also agreed to take on the Pack decision, previously discussed on this blog.  In Pack, a state appellate court struck down Long Beach's licensing system that the city used to regulate local dispensaries.  There, the lower court struck down the city's entire licensing system, finding that Long Beach had no authority to sanction an activity that was illegal under federal law. 

Finally, the High Court will review a lower court's ruling that tossed out a lawsuit brought by an individual against the City of Dana Point.  In that case, a medical marijuana user brought suit against the city for interfering with his access to his medication.  The trial court initially dismissed the case, finding that individual medical marijuana users lacked "standing" to sue, and that only a dispensary owner could bring such a claim.

Stay tuned for updates! It looks like 2012 is going to be an exciting year for medical marijuana law.

In bold defiance of SOPA and PIPA, photo stolen from the LA Times.