Weed Wars

Dispatches from the California Marijuana Front

September 22, 2010
Advocates warn cities federal law can't stop marijuana shops

Hinting at potential legal actions to come, an advocacy group for medical marijuana users is warning California cities and counties that they cannot ban pot stores on grounds that state and federal marijuana laws are conflict.

Americans for Safe Access, the Oakland-headquartered organization representing marijuana patients, has sent letters to 134 California cities and nine counties, urging them to lift local bans on marijuana dispensaries as a result of an August state appeals court ruling.

In a closely watched case challenging a dispensary ban in the Orange County city of Anaheim, the California 4th District Court of Appeal failed to resolve the central argument over whether cities can bar pot shops or be forced to accept them under state law.

But in sending the case back to a lower court, the 4th District Court ruled that Anaheim couldn't keep dispensaries out on grounds that federal marijuana law supercedes medical pot use in California.

"It is true that California and the federal government have conflicting views of the potential health benefits of marijuana," Judge Richard M. Aronson wrote in the Aug. 18 court decision. "But...we discern nothing in the city's compliance with state law that would require the violation of federal law. The federal CSA (Controlled Substances Act) does not direct local governments to exercise their regulatory, licensing, zoning, or other power in any particular way."

In a letter to local governments barring pot shops, Americans for Safe Access chief counsel Joe Elford said the court ruling means "it is not lawful for localities to ban medical marijuana dispensaries absolutely, due to a preference for contrary federal law."

In the letter, Elford told municipal officials: "I ask that you regulate medical marijuana dispensaries, rather than ban them."

He added: "Otherwise, we will explore our legal options."

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