Garden Grove, once home to the highest concentration of medical marijuana dispensaries in Orange County, has shut the door on all of them.
This spring, city officials forced more than 60 pot clinics to close up shop. The move came in the wake of a state Supreme Court ruling that allowed counties, towns and other localities to regulate dispensaries out of business.
Garden Grove joined with Anaheim as one of the last places in Orange County to pull the plug on dispensaries. The city banned them in 2008 but decided not to enforce the ban until the state Supreme Court issued its ruling.
Orange County cities like Garden Grove have joined a massive swath of California – more than 80 percent – that has banned medical pot clinics. Every conservative corner of the state, and most moderate regions, have enacted bans and zoning rules that make it impossible for dispensaries to operate.
Voters approved medical marijuana in California in 1996, but the law was vague when it came to purchase. After a few years, dispensaries began to pop up everywhere, sometimes hundreds in the same city. Some broke the law.
Cities and counties across the state reacted by passing bans, moratoriums and zoning regulations, all meant to free them of dispensaries. But the clinic operators sued, pointing to the 1996 referendum. By the time the case reached the state Supreme Court, hundreds of municipalities had banned dispensaries.
The ruling, handed down in early May, made it possible for cities like Garden Grove to make good on their promises to shut down every dispensary in town. By the time the city cracked down, it had the highest concentration of clinics in the county.
Shortly after the court ruling, Garden Grove ordered each of its 63 dispensaries to close by May 15. Fines of $1,000 a day and possible criminal charges face dispensary operators who attempt to defy the ban.
Patients are left with few options. Some may turn (or return) to the black market, which will provide inferior product at higher prices. Others may be able to drive to other dispensaries, though the options, such as Los Angeles, are increasingly distant.
Still others will turn to growing, though that’s an expensive, labor-intensive undertaking difficult for many patients. The only other alternative is delivery, which carries its own problems, especially in Garden Grove.
Many dispensaries in Garden Grove and elsewhere have dealt with closure by switching to a delivery model. In fact, it’s a trend being seen across the state, as dispensaries are becoming increasingly rare.
But delivery services exist in a legal gray area, and law enforcement in some cities has been trying to stamp them out with arrests, fines and prosecution. That includes Garden Grove, where the city is fining businesses that deliver medical marijuana.
But in Garden Grove, as in most of the rest of California, there doesn’t appear to be much choice. The result apparently desired by the city – no legal pot of any kind in Garden Grove – may come to pass.