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Cal. Communities Go After Growers

Medical pot shops have already been snuffed out like candles across California, making it harder – sometimes impossible – for thousands to get the medicine they need.

Now local officials in towns and counties throughout the state are looking to attack medical marijuana from a different angle, and if they have their way, they could cut off all access to many more suffering patients. For towns along the Central Valley and other conservative stretches of California, time may be running out on MMJ unless courts rule in their favor soon.

growing marijuana plantsVoters in the Golden State approved medical marijuana in 1996, making it legal for residents to grow and possess weed for medicinal uses. In 2003, the state Legislature passed a bill imposing the system under which patients are registered and collective growers allowed.

Soon after, retail dispensaries became common across the state, and concerned local authorities reacted. Some municipalities enacted temporary moratoriums on new dispensaries. Some instituted new regulations. Others tried to ban pot shops outright, forcing court challenges.

Then, early in 2013, the state Supreme Court ruled such bans were legal, despite the 1996 voter referendum. That cleared the way for more communities to prohibit dispensaries, a number that now stands at more than 200.

But that wasn’t enough for some localities. In 2011, the city council of Live Oak, in Northern California, voted to bar all marijuana cultivation, anywhere in the city, regardless of the medical marijuana laws. City officials used local zoning laws to carry out the ban.

A group of local patients sued, saying the state’s MMJ laws protect cultivation. Indeed, the law passed by voters in 1996 specifically declares home cultivation to be a legal act. Nonetheless, an appellate court representing Northern California ruled in November that municipalities may use local regulations to ban all marijuana grows.

There is no “unfettered right to cultivate marijuana for medical purposes,” the appeals court said.

The court failed to address the central problem with its ruling: that it guts a law duly enacted by the people of the State of California. Without access to cultivation or retail outlets, patients have no way to obtain marijuana, and the MMJ law is rendered useless.

marijuana plant purple backgroundAs soon as the decision came down, other communities acted to ban weed. Fresno County is in the process of enacting a total grow ban. Tracy, Cal., has already done so. The City of Selma initially banned all grows, then allowed permitted indoor cultivation.

The real danger is that more cities, towns and counties will follow suit, especially if the California Supreme Court decides they can impose these bans whenever they want. That could close large swaths of the state off from access to legal medical weed.

While they wait for the courts to act, advocates are busy fighting each community’s restrictions one at a time.

“The Fresno ordinance is in blatant conflict with the intent of the Compassionate Use Act to ensure access to medial marijuana for all patients in medical need,” wrote Dale Gieringer, head of California’s branch of NORML, in advance of the last public hearing before Fresno County supervisors voted on the ordinance. “We must not let this attack go unchallenged!”

About Matt Brooks

Based in San Francisco, Matt is a journalist who has specialized in marijuana policy for more than five years. He provides regular news coverage on marijuanaandthelaw.com and californiamarijuanamarket.com.

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