High Court prohibits municipalities from using Pack v. City of Long Beach to ban dispensaries
The California Supreme Court dismissed review on Wednesday of an important appellate court ruling affecting medical marijuana dispensaries throughout the state. Specifically, the High Court threw out the controversial decision in Pack v. City of Long Beach, which previously held that federal law preempted some forms of dispensary regulations.
The Pack decision has been used by several municipalities, including Los Angeles and Long Beach, to suspend or ban outright the distribution of medical marijuana. However, Wednesday’s dismissal of the Pack decision throws into question the viability of such bans.
“This is an important moment for medical marijuana patients in California,” said Joe Elford, chief counsel with Americans for Safe Access (ASA), a medical marijuana advocacy organization. “The California Supreme Court has essentially pulled out the rug from under local officials who have used the Pack decision to deny access to medical marijuana for thousands of patients across the state.”
“Pack is now a dead letter and, because of the California Rules of Court (Rule 8.528), it is disingenuous for any public official to contend that the appellate decision is somehow reinstated,” Elford said.
The reasoning used to dismiss the Pack case was that after the California Supreme Court decided to review the appellate decision, the Long Beach City Council repealed and replaced the ordinance with an outright ban on dispensaries thereby making moot the issues before the court. In addition, the petitioners in Pack “have now abandoned their federal preemption argument in favor of unrelated issues not raised or decided at any prior stage of this proceeding,” according to the court.
Because the recently adopted dispensary ban in Los Angeles was predicated on the Pack decision, enforcement efforts by the City Attorney would be premature and potentially unlawful. Despite threats of enforcement, patient advocates have vowed to overturn the ban in Los Angeles and are currently gathering just under 30,000 signatures needed to do so.
Several other appellate cases remain before the State Supreme Court pending review later this year or early next year. In one of the most closely watched cases, City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patient’s Health and Wellness Center, ASA has filed an amicus ‘friend of the court’ brief rejecting the notion that cities can ban local distribution of medical marijuana.
“While municipalities may pass reasonable regulations over the location and operation of medical marijuana collectives, they cannot ban them absolutely,” read the brief. “These bans thwart the Legislature’s stated objectives of ensuring access to marijuana for the seriously ill persons who need it in a uniform manner throughout the state.”
There are currently more than 50 cities and counties in California that have adopted dispensary regulatory ordinances, which are safely and legally accommodating the needs of their patients, as well as other members of their communities. An increasing number of studies also show that regulating dispensaries decrease crime and increase the quality of life in surrounding neighborhoods.