Andrew Edwards, Staff Writer
Posted: 03/05/2012 02:28:28 PM PST

The latest development in the fight over medical marijuana could sharply limit cities’ power to prohibit marijuana dispensaries.

A recent opinion, from the division of the state’s Fourth District Court of Appeals that meets in Santa Ana, holds that since California law provides for dispensaries, cities cannot ban them by declaring them to be a public nuisance.

A dispute between the Orange County city of Lake Forest and a dispensary called Evergreen Holistic Cooperative led to the new opinion.

The city asked for a court order to shut down the Evergreen Holistics because Lake Forest zoning laws did not allow dispensaries, but the appelate court ruled unanimously that Lake Forest’s law went too far.

“We conclude local governments may not prohibit medical marijuana dispensaries altogether, with the caveat that the Legislature authorized dispensaries only at sites where medical marijuana is `collectively or cooperatively cultivated,”‘ the opinion reads.

The court published its opinion last Wednesday. As of Monday, it was not clear how the ruling may affect cities like Upland and San Bernardino which have their own anti-dispensary laws.

“Case law in California has been all over the place,” said Jolena Grider, a senior deputy city attorney in San Bernardino. “That case and others will probably be heard by the state Supreme Court.”

Grider was not alone in her view on the need for an eventual ruling from the state Supreme Court to tell people on both sides of the medical marijuana divide what, exactly, California law says in regard to medical marijuana.

Los Angeles-based attorney David Welch, who represented Evergreen Holistic, said one to two years may pass before the state Supreme Court issues a definitive ruling on medical marijuana.

The California Supreme Court on its own cannot resolve the contradictions between state and federal law.

California voters approved medical marijuana use in 2006, but the drug remained illegal under the U.S. Controlled Substance Act.

Many cities have sided with the federal government in passing laws or moratoria to prevent the establishment of medical marijuana dispensaries.

Medical marijuana proponents, however, say marijuana’s medical benefits include pain relief, especially for cancer patients or those with long-term ailments.

In Upland, the G3 Holistic dispensary is but one place where the conflicts between local, state and federal marijuana laws have been at play and have gone as far as the state’s highest court.

Upland has its own anti-dispensary law, but a West Valley Superior Court judge in January ruled G3 Holistic can stay open pending a case between the dispensary and city.

The state Supreme Court has agreed to review that case, which is G3 Holistic’s appeal of an earlier appellate court opinion saying cities can ban dispensaries.

G3 Holistics operator Aaron Sandusky said he does not expect last week’s ruling to have much effect on his case, which is already set for state Supreme Court review.

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