Early in 2013, the California Supreme Court upheld a total ban on medical marijuana dispensaries in Riverside. It was a watershed case, allowing more than 200 local governments to cement their own bans and opening the doors to bans in other communities.
But almost a year later, it’s not clear how much has really changed in the wake of that decision. Most of the municipalities that banned dispensaries had already done so by the time the ruling was handed down.
At most, the decision seems to have emboldened big cities like Los Angeles in their efforts to regulate pot shops without shutting them down.
Now the state’s high court has handed down a new decision, and it remains to be seen how much the MMJ landscape will change as a result.
In March the court rejected a petition by patient advocates seeking to overturn the total ban on cultivation enforced by the City of Live Oak. The justices offered no explanation for their decision, but their ruling means Live Oak and communities like it can ban indoor and outdoor cultivation.
At least two communities have already followed the city’s lead, months before the decision was handed down. Fresno County and the City of Fresno both outlaw all grows, despite the fact that they’re allowed under the Compassionate Use Act.
That was the law passed by voters in 1996 that adopted MMJ. Of late, state courts have interpreted the law narrowly, such that it doesn’t give patients any broad-based right to grow cannabis. Thus, municipal governments have the authority to ban it.
The question is, will this decision lead to a wave of new cultivation bans across California?
The court’s refusal to hear the appeal simply means the lower ruling in the Third Circuit Court of Appeal stands. That circuit, which includes Live Oak, covers Northern California.
Refusing the case doesn’t technically clear the way for bans in other circuits. An appellate court in one of those circuits could overturn a cultivation ban there, forcing the Supreme Court to issue a formal ruling one way or the other. But given the signals sent by the court in March, that isn’t likely.
So it’s possible communities across the state could start banning all pot grows in a town-by-town effort to kill MMJ in California.
Still, it hasn’t happened yet. The move to ban dispensaries started early and built fast. Pot grows have been with the state as long as pot has been with the state. That’s much harder to eradicate than a dispensary.
Very few communities have actually prohibited cultivation. And it seems unlikely California’s local governments will go stampeding in that direction now.
The most conservative areas, and the areas with the most serious grow-related problems, may turn to cultivation bans. But banning pot grows in most parts of a state that’s just a couple years away from full legalization could be a very tough sell.