California Supreme Court  justices

By Sandra Emerson, Staff Writer
Posted: 02/04/2013 04:18:32 PM PST
Updated: 02/05/2013 01:05:06 AM PST

The state Supreme Court this week will hear arguments about whether cities can use zoning laws to ban medical marijuana dispensaries.

The high court will begin hearing oral arguments today from attorneys representing Riverside and attorneys for Inland Empire Patient’s Health and Wellness Center, a medical marijuana collective in the city.

The Supreme Court’s ruling will be binding on numerous cases questioning the use of zoning to ban dispensaries and could affect dozens of cities bans.

“The Supreme Court is going to bring clarity and uniformity to the law because we now have some courts of appeal that have ruled in favor of cities in these issues and some that have ruled in favor of medical marijuana dispensaries,” said T. Peter Pierce, an attorney for Los Angeles-based Richards, Watson & Gershon, whose firm is representing Upland in a similar case that was appealed to the Supreme Court.

“And, the trial courts are feeling like they don’t have concrete guidelines and have been all over the place on this issue.”

Medical marijuana patients were given the right to possess and cultivate marijuana for personal medical use after voters passed Proposition 215 – The Compassionate Use Act of 1996.

However, cities have argued Proposition 215 does not prohibit them from creating ordinances to ban dispensaries.

More than 175 cities and 20 counties in California have banned retail pot shops, according to the medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access.

Riverside officials sent a letter to the center’s operators in January 2009 informing them the city’s zoning laws prohibit medical marijuana dispensaries.

The center continued to operate, so the city filed a complaint in May 2010.

Riverside officials maintain that any use that is prohibited under state or federal law is also prohibited within city limits.

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