Pubdate: Tue, 07 May 2013
Source: Times-Herald, The (Vallejo, CA)
Copyright: 2013 The Times-Herald
Authors: Jessica A. York and Tony Burchyns


State medical marijuana law does not trump local dispensary bans,
regulation or other land use decisions, the state Supreme Court ruled
unanimously Monday.

Whether the ruling could add a new wrinkle to what Vallejo's next
steps in regards to its fluctuating medical marijuana dispensary
growth remains to be seen.

While the ruling is a "big win" for Riverside County -- the litigant
in the case -- and cities in general, Vallejo City Attorney Claudia
Quintana said it may not have a significant impact on how the city
approaches dispensaries.

"There's confusion about (dispensaries) who are already (in Vallejo),"
Quintana said. "But our position has always been that the ones that
are here are not here legally. Yes, it's confusing, because we are
collecting taxes from them. But we could have, always, even in the
absence of this decision, pursued enforcement action against them.
That's not something that has changed.

"But what this decision does clarify is that municipalities do have
the authority to allow, restrict, limit or entirely exclude facilities
that distribute medical marijuana," Quintana added. "Neither the
Compassionate Use Act nor the MMP (Medical Marijuana Program) preempts
the authority that California cities have in order to do that. That is
a real clear statement, at least, that we can actually proceed in
whichever way that the council would like us to go."

The Supreme Court's decision was not unexpected. Legal experts have
predicted the justices would be reluctant to strip cities of the right
to enact the bans.

"We're definitely disappointed to see it go this way but we're not
surprised," said Sean Dwyre, executive director of California Herbal
Relief Center, a Vallejo dispensary. He said that if more cities
choose to enact bans, more patients will turn to the black market to
buy marijuana.

"We're hopeful that the city of Vallejo recognizes that (medical
marijuana) is a need that needs to be fulfilled," Dwyre said. "The
city needs responsible regulation because without it there will not be
a clear solution."

San Rafael attorney Scot Candell, who has handled medical marijuana
cases in Vallejo, said he hopes the Legislature is up for the
challenge of clarifying the state's murky medical marijuana laws.

"Regulation of dispensaries is an issue for the Legislature, who for
political reasons punted it to the courts," Candell said. "Today, the
courts punted it back to the Legislature, saying 'If you want laws for
how cities and counties must regulate dispensaries, you write the
laws. It's your job, not ours.' "

Vallejo is some two weeks into a 45-day moratorium on issuing new
medical marijuana dispensary business license certificates. When the
moratorium is lifted, city officials from the legal and economic
development departments are expected to propose a menu of options for
the Vallejo City Council to consider for the dispensaries. Quintana
said Monday's ruling simply confirms that all options are open before
the Council.

City Councilwoman Marti Brown, who has long advocated city regulations
for dispensaries, called Monday's ruling "absolutely fabulous."

"We can go back to being innovative and creative in this city," Brown
said. "It really is possible to look at a variety of land use options."

In addition to potential regulation and operational conditions, city
staff members were last month directed to include a scenario
potentially involving the banning of all dispensaries.

More than a dozen dispensaries are estimated to be operating in
Vallejo, and some 30 different entities have obtained the city
business tax certificates since they were implemented in March 2012.

Vallejo officials have repeatedly stressed that the city's zoning code
does not account for dispensaries, and so therefore are illegal, by
default. The city has even taken the issue to court, gaining an
injunction and ultimately closing down one dispensary, Stan the Man's

The Solano County District Attorney's Office last year brought
criminal charges against several Vallejo dispensary operators, but
those cases were dropped in light of state appellate court rulings
favoring storefront collectives.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt