SANTA ANA, CA -- California's Fourth District Court of Appeal issued a long-awaited ruling today, choosing not to decide whether localities can ban medical marijuana distribution, and remanding the case back to
Orange County Superior Court for further factual development. While nearly four-dozen California localities -- including some of the most populous cities, such as Los Angeles, Long Beach, Oakland, and San Francisco -- have successfully implemented ordinances regulating medical marijuana dispensaries, more than 130 cities have imposed bans like Anaheim's.
The unanimous decision, authored by Judge Richard Aronson, reversed the trial court's ruling that federal law preempts state law, but failed to rule on whether Anaheim's local ordinance could preempt the state's Medical Marijuana Program Act (MMPA). The ruling states that because Proposition 215 and the MMPA "do not mandate conduct that federal law prohibits, nor pose an obstacle to federal enforcement of federal law, the enactments' decriminalization provisions are not preempted by federal law." In a statement favorable to the plaintiff, the court questions how "a city may criminalize as a misdemeanor a particular use of property the state expressly has exempted from 'criminal liability,'" as it does in the MMPA.
"While we understand the difficult nature of deciding this issue, the court's ruling delays a decision that will affect thousands of patients who remain without access to their medication because of hostile jurisdictions," said Joe Elford, Chief Counsel with Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the country's leading medical marijuana patient advocacy group, which filed briefs in the /Anaheim/ case and argued before the Court of Appeal last September. "The silver lining to this decision is that the court has reinstated the lawsuit and is providing the plaintiffs the opportunity to prove that dispensary bans are illegal under state law."
The case /Qualified Patients Association v. City of Anaheim/ was the result of a lawsuit filed shortly after Anaheim voted to ban dispensaries in July of 2007. Qualified Patients Association was a local
medical marijuana dispensary that had been in operation for 5 months prior to the ban. An appeal was filed in March of 2008 after the Orange County Superior Court ruled that Anaheim could prohibit dispensaries from operating within its city limits.
The /Anaheim/ case has drawn a lot of attention as more and more local governments have been forced to confront the issue of access to medical marijuana. Despite guidelines recognizing the legality of storefront dispensaries issued in August of 2008 by the California Attorney General, multiple statewide law enforcement associations filed briefs in support of Anaheim's ban, as did nearly three-dozen cities.
"We will continue to fight for the right of patients to access medical marijuana through medical marijuana dispensaries, which is provided for by the Medical Marijuana Program Act, previous case law and guidelines issued by the California Attorney General," continued Elford. "Whether or not the Anaheim case is brought before this court again, this issue will eventually be reheard and we are confident of the eventual outcome."
Today's ruling in /Qualified Patients Association v. City of Anaheim/:
Status of California city ordinances regulating and banning dispensaries: http://AmericansForSafeAccess.org/regulations