Medical Marijuana, Regulation, and the California Supreme Court

This week I was honored to be on "SoCal Connected" to speak with Madeleine Brand about the California Supreme Court's consideration of whether localities can prohibit medical marijuana dispensaries (watch it here). Our state's highest court is wading into a confused thicket of laws concerning marijuana, and more specifically medical marijuana. Here is a quick synopsis of the legal landscape.

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Under federal law, marijuana is a schedule 1 drug. This means it is an illegal narcotic and there is no accepted use for it. Recently a federal appeals court rejected a suit seeking to change that classification. It is now up to Congress and the Drug Enforcement Administration to act. The federal government could take a number of different routes. First, it could classify medical marijuana. Second, it could legalize medical marijuana. Third, it could reduce penalties for the use and/or possession of medical marijuana.

Next we move on to California State laws. In 1996 the voters passed Prop 215, commonly known as the Compassionate Use Act. That law, among other things, allows doctors to recommend that certain patients use marijuana for medicinal purposes. Patients with such a recommendation can possess and grow marijuana for medicinal purposes. The law was later amended to allow collective distribution of medical marijuana. Still, the contours of the law are far from clear.

In the local level, cities and states have four primary options. First, they can prohibit medical marijuana dispensaries (maybe -- more on that in a moment). Second, they can impose moratoriums on such dispensaries. Third, they can impose regulations, like zoning laws, which restrict such dispensaries. Fourth, they can impose no local regulations. To date many localities have taken the first route and banned medical marijuana dispensaries. These include Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, and Culver City. As I have previously noted in Los Angeles voters will likely face three different ballot measures dealing with medical marijuana this May.

This week the California Supreme Court heard arguments concerning the issue of whether localities have the power to ban medical marijuana dispensaries in light of State laws, primarily the Compassionate Use Act, which address this topic. The Supreme Court's ruling will likely have significant implications for localities not only in California, but throughout the nation and we begin to define the legal lines of medical marijuana use.

Jessica Levinson writes about the intersection of law and government every week. She is an Associate Clinical Professor at Loyola Law School. Read more of her posts here.

About the Author

Jessica Levinson is an Associate Clinical Professor at Loyola Law School. She focuses on the intersection of law and government.
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