Court: California State Law Does Not Conflict With Federal Law on Dispensaries

CANNABIS CULTURE – The California 4th District Court of Appeal of Anaheim’s ordinance, which prohibits medical marijuana dispensaries and makes it a crime to operate them, has been reversed and the matter has been sent back to court.

The decision has been a long time in coming – opening arguments were heard in September 2009 – and represents a major victory.

The origins of the case date back to July 2007, when Anaheim unanimously approved its ordinance.

A group of medical-marijuana patients sued the city in Orange County Superior Court, but a judge dismissed that case. So the patients appealed to the state court, saying that the Anaheim ordinance was unfair to “qualified patients” and was counter to the state’s Compassionate Use Act, approved by California voters in 1996.

A decision was expected last July and eagerly awaited by attorneys and both sides. But the court delayed its decision until today:

“We agree with plaintiffs the trial court erred as a matter of law in concluding federal regulation of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. § 812 et seq. ) preempted California’s decision in the CUA and the MMPA to decriminalize specific medical marijuana activities under state law. We therefore reverse the judgment of dismissal and remand the matter to allow plaintiffs to pursue their declaratory judgment cause of action.”

A support (amicus) brief filed by State Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) in his personal capacity stated that, “the clear intent of the [Medical Marijuana Program Act] in providing an exemption under the nuisance law was to preempt local ordinances and enforcement efforts based on nuisance law of any kind,” and “To permit otherwise would undermine the expressly stated intent of the legislation.” As an Assemblymember at the time, Mr. Leno was one of the principal co-authors of SB 420, the Medical Marijuana Program Act of 2003.

Credit for this important win goes to Joseph Elford, Chief Counsel for Americans for Safe Access, for his amicus brief, that played a key role in the decision.

Steve Kubby is director of the American Medical Marijuana Association.