May 14, 2013 — Last Monday the California Supreme Court ruled city and county governments could ban medical marijuana dispensaries despite the state law allowing citizens with medical marijuana recommendations from their doctors that they may use the drug for relief of their symptoms.
The state’s high court upheld trial court and appellate court decisions supporting the city of Riverside’s ban of medical marijuana dispensaries it believed were a nuisance.
But the case before the supreme court isn’t about medical marijuana per se — it’s about a local government’s ability to control land use through zoning laws. According to the state laws people may use medical marijuana if they receive a recommendation from the doctor. But the court ruled while the medical marijuana proposition allows patients to use the drug, cities and counties retain the right to make zoning decisions for their communities.
The state statutes that allow the use of medical marijuana are silent on the issue of dispensaries, and because of that silence, the supreme court ruled in favor of the city of Riverside. The statutes prohibit the prosecution and punishment of those who follow them and use a drug that is otherwise illegal under both state and federal law. That’s as far as they go, and that’s the basis of the court’s ruling.
Medical marijuana has been a contentious issue even before the state’s voters approved Proposition 215, the Compassionate Care Act, in 1996. Beginning in 1991, several cities and even the state legislature passed medical marijuana bills, but Governor Pete Wilson vetoed them.
Many citizens and government officials in Lassen County, especially those in law enforcement, opposed the proposition and subsequent laws believing they would basically legalize marijuana.
The Susanville City Council approved an ordinance banning medical marijuana dispensaries in 2005, and Lassen County approved a similar ordinance in 2010.
A careful reading of the ordinances reveal the legal advisors working for the city and the county did their homework and crafted these ordinances with the same reasoning followed by the supreme court justices.
While patients may have the right to use medical marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation and given the wording of the law that allows the drug’s use, the court’s decision upholds the ordinances passed by the city of Susanville and Lassen County and their ability to ban medical marijuana dispensaries within their jurisdictions.
We are a community with a variety of state and federal agencies in our midst, two state prisons and a federal prison, so it’s not unreasonable to expect many local residents would not want to discover a medical marijuana dispensary in their neighborhood. Many of these residents believe marijuana is a gateway drug that opens the door to a whole variety of social ills, and its use is a contributing factor to many of the crimes committed by those who serve sentences behind prison walls.
The supreme court’s decision allows those who have a doctor’s recommendation to legally smoke their marijuana without fear of prosecution as the law provides, and at the same time it allows communities the ability to ban what could be considered drug dens from opening for business and upsetting their local social order.
Given the perspective of many residents in our communities, the city of Susanville, Lassen County and the California Supreme Court each made the right decision.
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