Medical Marijuana Under Local, Federal Attack in California

CANNABIS CULTURE – Californians were reeling this week from Monday’s long-anticipated and unsurprising ruling by the California Supreme Court decreeing that local governments may ban – or allow – medical marijuana dispensaries.

The unanimous decision, City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center, holds that California’s state medical marijuana laws do not preempt the authority of local governments to regulate or ban the distribution of medical marijuana.

California sheriffs have reportedly been given the go-ahead from California Attorney General Kamala Harris to go after unlicensed collectives in their counties. San Bernardino county, which was one of three counties who unsuccesfully sued the state against implementing an ID card program for patients, has already begun to go after their collectives. Inland Empire Health and Wellness, the collective that brought suit against Riverside, announced it will be closing its doors immediately after the decision was announced.

Medical marijuana advocates were not surprised by the Riverside ruling, which effectively affirms the validity of scores of existing local ordinances limiting distribution of medical marijuana.

“The court essentially affirmed the status quo,” commented California NORML director Dale Gieringer. “Local governments may choose to allow or limit dispensaries as they please.”

“While several California cities and counties allow medical marijuana facilities, it may not be reasonable to expect every community to do so,” the court wrote. “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.”

“The unfortunate result of this decision is to leave many needy patients without legal access to medical marijuana in their communities, thereby promoting illegal black market suppliers,” Gieringer said. “It is time for the state and federal governments to step up to the plate and fulfill the mandate of Prop. 215 to implement a system of ‘safe and affordable’ access for all patients in medical need.”

“The CUA [Prop. 215] and the MMP [SB420] create no all-encompassing scheme for the control and regulation of marijuana for medicinal use,” the Court pointed out, adding, “though the Legislature stated it intended the MMP to ‘promote; uniform application of the CUA and to ‘enhance’ access to medical marijuana through collective cultivation, the MMP itself adopts but limited means of addressing these ideals.”

“Of course, nothing prevents future efforts by the Legislature, or by the People, to adopt a different approach,” the Court concluded.

Last year, a bill requiring cities to allow at least one dispensary passed the state assembly, but saw intense opposition from the League of Cities and others. The bill was so altered in the Senate it lost support of activists. Two bills currently in the state legislature, AB473 (Ammiano) and SB439 (Steinberg), seek to better regulate medical marijuana throughout California.

The feds aren’t leaving California alone either, with a new spate of threatening letters to landlords in Ukiah, San Jose and San Francisco issued by DOJ’s Melinda Haag. The proximity to schools and parks remains the chosen issue, and no date certain or specific threats are stated in the new letters. At least one San Jose collective has engaged attorney Henry Wykowski, who succeeded in court on behalf of Harborside’s landlord earlier this year.

On May 3, Haag filed forfeiture papers against the property owner of Berkeley Patients’ Group, the East Bay’s oldest operating medical cannabis dispensary. Founded in 1999, the BPG is one of the most respected dispensaries in the Bay Area.

For years, BPG operated without complaint under city regulations. It was forced to move last year after receiving a warning from US Attorney Melinda Haag that it was supposedly operating too close to a school, although the school had never objected to BPG’s location. This year BPG moved to a new location even farther removed from schools, but Haag filed a forfeiture complaint without further warning.

At a rally on Wednesday, Berkeley City Councilman Darryl Moore, in whose district BPG operates, called them “outstanding assets to the community.” Also speaking in support of BPG were Berkeley city council members Kriss Worthington, Laurie Capitelli and Jesse Arreguin, as well as Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates.

In addition, a representative from Congresswoman Barbara Lee’s office voiced her support, as did a spokesperson for Oakland City Council President Rebecca Kaplan. Statements in response to the action were read from state Board of Equalization member Betty Yee and state assembly members Loni Hancock, Tom Ammiano and Nancy Skinner. Lee later tweeted:

California NORML director Dale Gieringer denounced the DOJ action as a disgraceful attack on legal access to marijuana under Prop. 215 by an out-of-control federal drug bureaucracy. “In this time of sequestration, the Boston bombings, and Newtown shootings, it’s an outrageous misuse of DOJ resources to perpetuate this misguided war on medical marijuana….This DOJ lawsuit violates fundamental principles of due process, limited government, and personal freedom on which this nation was founded. We call on President Obama to honor the views of the great majority of Americans who support state marijuana laws and call off this outrageous federal attack on Americans’ access to medicine.” Gieringer called the White House hotline to complain 202-456-1111 (6am to 2pm PST).

BPG officials announced they intend to stay open and fight the forfeiture. “I’m looking at this as a death sentence, and praying this does not happen,” HIV-positive patient Robin Bishop said at the rally.

HIV-positive patient Robin Bishop speaks at a May 8 rally in support of Berkeley Patients Group.

Ellen Komp is Deputy Director of California NORML and a regular contributor to Cannabis Culture. She manages the website and blogs at Tokin Woman.



  1. Mrs. RatsRectum on

    Yeah, Barry has turned out to be a really big bummer, O’Bummer and full of the blarney, he is. He talks big, like all politicians, to get elected, then once he’s in the oval orifice he rips jokes and laughs off our cannabis concerns, hasn’t called off the federal dawgz. So I can see he’ll never come up with his own legislation to free the weed and legalize the sacred herb.

    However, correct me if I’m wrong on this, but Obama never said he would not sign pro-cannabis legislation if it came across his desk, or did he?

    Come on Barry! Speed up the orchestration of cannabis legalization. Stop fucking around!

  2. Menace on

    and he is a lying demon- c-rat

  3. Mrs. RatsRectum on

    Mainly Republicans are against legalizing pot at the federal level, or at least they’re the obstacle. They paint government as bloated and needing to be downsized. They grandstand with statements along the lines that government taxes you because they know how to spend your money better than you do. There’s too much regulation that interferes with the business of making money.

    Yet when it comes to cannabis, government knows best. Unfathomable, considering the feds (DEA) block any kind of research that may shed positive light on cannabis. They’ve got their jaws locked on cannabis prohibition like a gila monster, and they just keep pumping that venomous propaganda into the bite.

    What the locals do, that’s local, as long as the feds are not manipulating them. Hands off, feds! I do indeed seriously doubt that a lot of these local governments are not under pressure from the feds, are not constantly looking over their shoulders in fear the feds will nail them. Feds have issued warnings the convey they will pursue state and local government employees in states where the state would be in charge of the MMJ system. That effer Richard M. Nixon isn’t dead, yet. Neither is J. Edgar Hoover, Harry Anslinger. Their evil spirits need to stop haunting us forever. If the feds get out of the mix, my bet is many of the locales would ease up on the leaf.

    Feds are a bunch of burros, in English and in Spanish.