The decision by a panel of the 4th District Court of Appeal upholds Riverside’s ban. It could embolden more cities and counties to enact their own bans.

By John Hoeffel, Los Angeles Times
November 11, 2011

In a decision that could have immediate fallout for medical marijuana dispensaries, a state appeals court has ruled that California law allows cities and counties to ban the stores.

The contentious issue has bounced through the state courts for years, but the opinion issued Wednesday is the first published one that directly tackles it and does so in unambiguous language. The decision, which upholds Riverside’s ban, could embolden more cities and counties to enact their own. It also could spur those that have bans to be more aggressive about seeking court orders to close defiant dispensaries.

“I think its impact will be significant throughout the state,” said Jeffrey Dunn, an attorney who argued the case for Riverside. “It’s not wishy-washy. It squarely addresses it. And it makes it very clear.”

In the case, a three-judge panel in the 4th District Court of Appeal in Riverside rejected an appeal from Inland Empire Patient’s Health and Wellness Center and concluded that the state’s medical marijuana laws do not prevent cities and counties from passing regulations on dispensaries, including bans. The judges also issued a nearly identical unpublished opinion Wednesday, upholding Upland’s ban.

The decisions closely follow another appellate court ruling that said Long Beach could not adopt any regulations that amount to authorizing dispensaries because marijuana remains illegal under federal law. That decision has left officials throughout the state puzzled about what rules they can impose. Together, the two decisions could lead more cities and counties to put bans in place.

Joe Elford, chief counsel for Americans for Safe Access, said he fears that could happen, but added, “I would hope that they would do the responsible thing and continue to regulate dispensaries.”

Long Beach, which had used a lottery to select the dispensaries it would allow, will now consider a ban.

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