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Calif. Supreme Court Rules Cities Can Ban Pot Dispensaries

RIVERSIDE ( — The California Supreme Court Monday ruled that city governments have the authority to outlaw local medical marijuana dispensaries.

The unanimous ruling on the case of City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center was expected to draw scores of medical marijuana advocates to dispensaries around the Southland and statewide to protest a ruling they say would illegally allow cities to regulate and restrict the industry.

While the ruling will likely have an immediate impact on the estimated 700 medical marijuana shops in L.A., Special Assistant City Attorney Jane Usher told KNX 1070 NEWSRADIO the court ruling could raise more questions than it answers.

"They expressly sidestepped the opportunity to say whether a city's local regulation would be preempted by federal law, which as you know, prohibits marijuana for all purposes," Usher said. "So the court has left open that big window."

Prop. 215, which was passed in 1996, was the first statewide medical marijuana voter initiative adopted in the U.S. and was intended to encourage the state and federal governments to adopt a distribution plan.

But when a plan failed to materialize, more than 50 localities across the state adopted regulatory ordinances, allowing them to effectively license dispensaries, while nearly 200 cities — including Los Angeles — opted to ban local distribution outright.

Jeffrey Dunn, an Irvine-based attorney who argued the case in front of the State Supreme Court for the city of Riverside, told KNX 1070 NEWSRADIO city officials see the problem as a public safety issue.

Attorney Jeffrey Dunn

"When we look carefully at Prop. 215, what we see is that there was an intent on the voters' part to make marijuana available to seriously ill Californians," Dunn said. "There was never any indication that we would see the type of storefront dispensaries that we see opening up everywhere."

The issue will go before voters again next month in the form of ballot measures that could impose tougher zoning restrictions for dispensaries and levy a tax on the sale of marijuana for medical use.

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