An appellate court upholds local government bans on medical marijuana dispensaries. City officials hope to shut remaining storefronts quickly.

BY RICHARD K. De ATLEY, ALICIA ROBINSON
AND SANDRA STOKLEYSTAFF WRITERS
rdeatley@pe.com | arobinson@pe.com sstokley@pe.com
Published: 11 November 2011 05:45 PM

Inland cities and counties that have banned medical marijuana dispensaries are expected to act quickly to close down the operations now that a court ruling has upheld the prohibitions.

Attorneys for the dispensaries vowed to appeal and warned that the legal fight is far from over.

Riverside has already filed court orders to close down the city’s estimated 15 medical marijuana dispensaries. “We are working on this right now,” City Attorney Greg Priamos said. “We will be moving immediately to take action.”

Jurupa Valley City Attorney Peter Thorson said the appellate court decision this week advanced the city’s effort to close down the 22 medical marijuana dispensaries that officials believe are operating within that city.

“The decision unequivocally establishes that cities have the right to prohibit dispensaries under their zoning ordinances,” Thorson said.

Thorson said city officials are still mulling their options — including seeking a court injunction — to shut down the operations.

The list of Inland governments that ban medical marijuana dispensaries includes Riverside and San Bernardino counties and the cities of Riverside, San Bernardino, Redlands, Hemet, San Jacinto, Corona, Norco, Moreno Valley, Murrieta and Temecula.

The published decision from the Riverside-based division of the 4th District Court of Appeal, makes it the rule of law in Riverside, San Bernardino and Inyo counties. It also can be cited throughout the state.

Cities are combining the leverage of the court ruling with the federal government’s recent crackdown on dispensaries.

Marijuana is illegal under federal law. But California courts have ruled that federal law does not pre-empt the state’s Compassionate Use Act or Medical Marijuana Program.

Federal agencies can act on their own. Last month, California’s four U.S. attorneys started targeting dispensaries they said were not in compliance with federal or state law.

Riverside’s Priamos emphasized that the city’s efforts to close remaining dispensaries will be done in coordination with the U.S. Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Recent letters from cities and counties to landlords who lease to the dispensaries inform them that their property could be subject to federal confiscation.

“In Riverside, the storefront dispensaries have nothing to do with compliance of the Compassionate Use Act or the Medical Marijuana Program and are flat-out illegal under federal law. They are commercial, retail distribution centers of a Schedule 1 drug,” said Priamos, referring to the federal classification of marijuana as a substance with no medical value.

‘BACK TO BLACK MARKET’

If dispensaries in Riverside and other Inland cities shut down in the wake of this week’s court ruling, some medical marijuana users aren’t sure where they’ll turn for what they say is a vital medicine.

“I think some people will grow their own,” said activist Alan Murray. “I think some people are going to have to go back to the black market.”

A 52-year-old San Bernardino resident, Murray said he uses medical marijuana to cope with arthritis, depression and other debilitating conditions. He belongs to the Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center and another collective in San Bernardino.

Cheryl Jones, a Riverside medical marijuana user who is also a vendor at the health and wellness center, also worried that people would go to illegal dealers if dispensaries are closed.

“For me it’s going to be devastating,” Jones said, her voice breaking with emotion. She and her husband are both disabled, she said, and being a vendor allows her to make ends meet.

“It’s a nightmare. A lot of people are scared.”

COURT BATTLE

The appellate court ruling Wednesday agreed with the city of Riverside that local governments have the right to outlaw the storefront facilities, and that state laws authorizing medical marijuana do not pre-empt local zoning control.

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