Medical Marijuana Can Be Banned in Cities and Counties, California Supreme Court Says

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Source: Associated Press, “Arizona Ruling Orders Return of Medical Marijuana,”, Jan. 11, 2013

California’s Supreme Court unanimously ruled on May 6, 2013 that cities and counties in the state may ban medical marijuana dispensaries within their borders. The ruling held that California’s medical marijuana laws do not prevent local governments from declaring dispensaries a nuisance and using land use and zoning laws to prohibit them.

“Facilities that dispense medical marijuana may pose a danger of increased crime, congestion, blight, and drug abuse, and the extent of this danger may vary widely from community to community,” Justice Marvin R. Baxter wrote in the 7-0 majority opinion. “While some counties and cities might consider themselves well suited to accommodating medical marijuana dispensaries, conditions in other communities might lead to the reasonable decision that such facilities within their borders, even if carefully sited, well managed, and closely monitored, would present unacceptable local risks and burdens.”

California’s Proposition 215, passed in 1996, was the first statewide medical marijuana voter initiative adopted in the United States. 193 cities and 20 counties across California had enacted bans on dispensaries (also called cannabis clubs, collectives, and clinics, among other terms) before the Supreme Court ruling, and more are expected to pass bans of their own in light of the decision.

Medical marijuana advocates argued that allowing local governments to bar dispensaries contradicts the intent of Proposition 215. According to Drug Policy Alliance Senior Staff Attorney Tamar Todd: “Today’s decision allowing localities to ban will likely lead to reduced patient access in California unless the state finally steps up to provide regulatory oversight and guidance. Localities will stop enacting bans once the state has stepped up and assumed its responsibility to regulate.”

According to the Marijuana Policy Project and the Drug Policy Alliancetwo bills are pending in the California Legislature that would establish a new statewide system for regulating and licensing the medical marijuana industry, and to clarify the role of dispensaries in it. Advocates hope to see language that would make it harder for local governments to outlaw dispensaries by requiring voter approval for any bans, thereby lessening the impact of the Supreme Court’s decision.

Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws to legalize medical marijuana, and ten states have pending legislation. Marijuana remains illegal under federal law.


Americans for Safe Access, “Local California Dispensary Regulations,”, Mar. 1, 2013

CBS Los Angeles, “California Supreme Court Rules Cities Can Ban Pot Dispensaries,”, May 6, 2013

Marijuana Policy Project, “California Legislature Debates Medical Marijuana Policy,”, May 3, 2013

Maura Dolan, “California Supreme Court Upholds Medical Pot Bans,”, May 6, 2013

Lisa Leff, “Court: California Cities Can Ban Medical Pot Shops,”, May 6, 2013

USA Today, “California Supreme Court: Cities Can Ban Pot Stores,”, May 6, 2013