23 Aug 2014
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Cities Can't Ban Pot Shops, Appeals Court Rules

State law "preempts" bans of medical marijuana shops by municipalities, according to the unanimous appeals court decision. Laguna Niguel has one of last remaining medical marijuana dispensaries in South County.

Cities Can't Ban Pot Shops, Appeals Court Rules

Orange County cities fighting to keep out medical marijuana dispensaries may have a tougher time doing so after a Monday ruling affirming the legality of the shops under California law.

Laguna Niguel has one of the last medical marijuana dispensaries in South County, Suite A. However, the city and the shop are in a legal battle that is ongoing.

On April 5 at the City Council meeting: was still fighting for its right to operate within the city of Laguna Niguel. The closed session addressed the current lawsuit that the city is currently engaged in with the marijuana collective. The city filed the lawsuit against Suite A last year in an attempt to close the collective after the council unanimously voted to ban medical marijuana dispensaries.

While City Manager Tim Casey was unable to give much detail about the still pending lawsuit due to legal restraints, he did inform Patch that “because of pending appellate court cases, the trial was continued to July 30.”

Now, a three-justice panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled that Los Angeles County's ban on medical marijuana is "preempted" by state law.

The decision by the state appeals court also rejected bans imposed by municipalities trying to excise the shops from their boundaries. A number of cities in Orange County, including Anaheim, Costa Mesa, Dana Point and Lake Forest, have taken to the courts to battle  dispensaries operating in their cities.

The decision reverses a preliminary injunction granted to the county by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ann Jones in May 2011. 

"Los Angeles County's total, per se nuisance ban against medical marijuana dispensaries directly contradicts the legislature's intent,'' Justice Robert Mallano wrote in the 19-page unanimous decision. 

The county sued the Alternative Medicinal Cannabis Collective in March 2011.

Principal Deputy County Counsel Sari Steel could not be immediately reached.

"The court of appeal could not have been clearer in expressing that medical marijuana dispensaries are legal under state law, and that municipalities have no right to ban them," said Joe Elford, Chief Counsel with Americans for Safe Access, a medical marijuana advocacy group. "This landmark decision should have a considerable impact on how the California Supreme Court rules in the various dispensary cases it's currently reviewing.'' 

On July 24, the city of Los Angeles is scheduled to vote on a dispensary ban similar to the one enacted by the County, but just rejected by the court of appeal. 

"The (appellate court) decision puts a giant wrench into the plans of City Attorney Trutanich to persuade the City Council to enact a ban," said Elford.

–City News Service

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