California Supreme Court Recognizes Local Authority in Medical Marijuana Case - Decision Likely to Have Far-Reaching Impacts on Cities and Counties

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In an unanimous opinion, the California Supreme Court has upheld local laws that regulate or prohibit medical marijuana dispensaries.

California appellate courts have struggled with this issue for several years, handing down differing opinions on the complex interaction of federal, state and local laws in this area. However, yesterday’s decision by the state’s highest court found no state preemption or limitation on traditional municipal zoning authority to regulate marijuana dispensaries under the police power. 

The ruling in City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center is likely to have far-reaching benefits for California cities and counties as they seek to control the public safety aspects of marijuana distribution. The Supreme Court’s decision is not only a very narrow interpretation of state law regarding marijuana distribution, which it characterized as “narrow and modest,” but also a sweeping ratification of local zoning authority generally. The court’s thorough analysis of the preemption issue leaves much leeway for local agencies to enact local safety and zoning ordinances in a broad range of areas. The widely reported decision could also impact other states as they attempt to resolve sometimes conflicting layers of federal, state and local laws involving medical marijuana.

Best Best & Krieger LLP has provided legal advice and representation to many California cities and counties on the interrelationship of federal, state and municipal regulation of marijuana facilities. BB&K partner Jeffrey V. Dunn successfully argued the state Supreme Court case on behalf of the City of Riverside.

For any questions about how this ruling affects your city or county, please contact Jeffrey V. Dunn in BB&K’s Municipal Law practice group, or your BB&K attorney.