California's high court upholds city bans of pot stores

Reporter Sarah Hashim-Waris from The Times newsroom with details on the high court's unanimous vote allowing local governments to ban medical marijuana dispensaries.

[Updated 1t 10:15 a.m.:

SAN FRANCISCO -- The California Supreme Court decided Monday that cities may ban medical marijuana dispensaries through zoning.

The state high court’s unanimous ruling,  which approved a ban by the city of Riverside, is expected to spur more such prohibitions around the state. About 200 communities now have zoning laws that exclude cannabis dispensaries.]

During a hearing in February, several justices indicated they favored upholding city bans. The justices' comments suggested the court would rule that local governments have wide policing powers that state medical marijuana laws have not usurped.


If the court rules in favor of the bans, many more communities are expected to zone dispensaries out of existence.

Supporters of medical cannabis have lamented that patients would be forced to drive hundreds of miles to obtain marijuana legally or be forced to buy illegally.

Californians passed Proposition 215 in 1996, removing state sanctions for patients who use cannabis under a doctor's recommendation.  But the state Legislature failed to adopt regulations for the law, and some cities and counties were inundated with dispensaries before they even began to consider local rules.

Rather than risk lawsuits by regulating, many cities simply adopted zoning ordinances that effectively banned dispensaries. The case before the court involves such a ban by the city of Riverside.

Lower courts have been divided over whether such bans were legal. The Legislature passed a law in 2010 that banned dispensaries near schools and said cities and counties could otherwise regulate their location, operation and establishment.

Advocates of medical cannabis insisted that regulating did not mean banning. They pointed out that the written intent of the state law was to provide uniformity among counties and make medical marijuana available to patients.

Cities and counties countered that the language of the law implied a ban was permissible. They also argued that the state Constitution gave them the right to decide local land use matters.