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California Supreme Court Holds Local Governments May Ban Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

On May 6, 2013, the California Supreme Court issued the long awaited decision in City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center, Inc. et al., (S198638) upholding the ban by the City of Riverside (“City”) on medical marijuana collectives, cooperatives and dispensaries (“dispensaries”).  The Court held that the City’s ban on medical marijuana dispensaries was not preempted by California law, as set forth in the Compassionate Use Act (“CUA”) or the Medical Marijuana Program Act (“MMPA”), and thus the ban was valid.  Local regulation of dispensaries does not duplicate or contradict state law, nor does such regulation enter an area or field fully occupied by state law; consequently, local governments may choose to regulate or ban medical marijuana dispensaries.

As the Court explained, the plain language of the CUA and the MMPA is limited in scope, granting specific persons and groups immunity from specified state laws relating to medical marijuana, and neither law guarantees the availability of locations for dispensaries, or requires local zoning and licensing laws to accommodate the dispensaries.  Local governments maintain the right to regulate or ban dispensaries. The Court recognized that while some local governments might consider themselves well suited to accommodate medical marijuana dispensaries, other jurisdictions may determine that the dispensaries present an unacceptable local risk and burden, and thus wish to ban dispensaries. 

The Court concluded that because neither the CUA nor the MMPA expressly or impliedly preempt the authority of local governments, local governments may, under traditional land use and police powers, allow, restrict, limit or entirely exclude medical marijuana dispensaries.