Court Says California Cities & Counties Can Ban Pot Shops

If you live in California and were envisioning a storefront marijuana shop on every corner, stop dreaming. The California Supreme Court ruled yesterday that cities and counties will have the power to just say no to medical marijuana dispensaries, which makes it unlikely that storefront pot shops will become the next Starbucks.

The court’s unanimous opinion says that California’s medical marijuana laws don’t say anything about stopping local governments from zoning dispensaries out of existence, nor do they contain any language about ensuring that authorized users can get access to pot, reports the Associated Press.

Basically, the justices say, some communities might be all about the pot shops coming to town, while others would prefer not to have one around.

“While some counties and cities might consider themselves well-suited to accommodating medical marijuana dispensaries, conditions in other communities might lead to the reasonable decision that such facilities within their borders, even if carefully sited, well managed, and closely monitored, would present unacceptable local risks and burdens,” Justice Marvin Baxter wrote for the seven-member court.

The city of Riverside enacted just such a ban in 2010, which is why the issue ended up at the Supreme Court’s hands in the first place. A further 200 jurisdictions also have some sort of ban in place on retail pot sales, according to the advocacy group Americans for Safe Access estimates.

A lawyer for the city of Riverside says such bans are necessary so that marijuana doesn’t become too easy to get — it’s the only state where doctor’s can write up a prescription for the stuff for any ailment they see fit. Other states only allow it for things like AIDS and glaucoma.

“The irony in California is that we regulate everything that consumers purchase and consume, and somehow this has been allowed to be a complete free-for-all,” said Riverside’s lawyer in the case. “Cities and counties looked at this and said, ‘Wait a minute. We can’t expose the public to these kind of risks,’ and the court recognized that when it comes to public safety, we have independent authority.”

Advocates for marijuana are worried, as a result, that those patients in need of the drug won’t be able to find it, unless California starts regulating things.

“Today’s decision allowing localities to ban will likely lead to reduced patient access in California unless the state finally steps up to provide regulatory oversight and guidance,” said the senior staff attorney for the Drug Policy Alliance. “Localities will stop enacting bans once the state has stepped up and assumed its responsibility to regulate.”

Court: Calif. Cities Can Ban Medical Pot Shops  [Associated Press]