By Tommy A. Purvis
The speedy delivery of medical cannabis—something California voters made legal 16 years ago, in case ya forgot—in Riverside is now under threat for patients still searching for safe access after the shutdown of various storefronts providing the medicinal plant. This attack on safe access has been further worsened through an emergency ban on mobile medical marijuana services approved by the City Council earlier this month.
Riverside Deputy City Attorney Neil Okazaki told council members that he was able to find 50 mobile dispensaries within 20 miles of the city during a workshop for the Medical Marijuana Dispensary Enforcement Program. Okazaki claims nearly half of the total are start-ups. Okazaki told the council that 75 storefronts have been shut down since 2010. He also suggested the recent batch of start-ups he identified were likely prompted by a May 6 California Supreme Court ruling.
In May, the California Supreme Court upheld the right of local governments (cities and counties) to ban brick-and-mortar medical cannabis providers in a 44-page decision in the now landmark case City of Riverside V. Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center (IEPH&WC). In this case, Riverside city officials sought to ban IEPH&WC, citing zoning ordinances that did now allow medical cannabis facilities. The court essentially said cities and counties can regulate (and ban) such storefronts via their land-use and zoning provisions.
Storefronts across the IE were closed for business within hours and days of the decision as law enforcement began a series of raids to enforce various alleged misdemeanor public nuisance laws and zoning violations, confiscating cannabis and property.
Critics of the ruling say such bans thwart the state’s Compassionate Use Act (CUA)—and pushes law-abiding patients to secure cannabis from drug dealers. And proponents of Proposition 215—the ballot initiative that legalized medical cannabis statewide in 1996—are quick to point out the latest court decision does not mention mobile medical marijuana dispensing. And neither does the 2007 Riverside City Council ban on storefront medical marijuana dispensaries.
“The decision by the California Supreme Court allows municipalities to issue outright bans on medical marijuana dispensaries through zoning and land use powers,” Jason Thompson, a Mira Loma-based attorney and advocate for medical cannabis, told the Weekly. “Officials are choosing to ramp up enforcement powers because this is their green light. They are emboldened to take tougher action across the board.”
The Riverside City Attorney’s office did not respond to the Weekly’s questions regarding how the enforcement mechanism of the mobile medical ban would be implemented by law enforcement. Proposition 215 prevents the prosecution and abatement of medical marijuana caregivers and patients who comply with the legal framework of the legislation.
Council minutes from the June 11 meeting cite the emergency medical cannabis delivery service ban is necessary to “preserve public peace, health and safety.” Okazaki told council members that delivery drivers are often subject to robbery (though, as far as the Weekly could tell, he provided no corroborating facts or figures to back up this assertion).
The original ban from the city council left out delivery services in language that still defines a “medical marijuana dispensary” in zoning ordinances as “a dispensary, a collective and a cooperative.”
Thompson—who has been able to successfully defend several medical cannabis clients from both the legal overreach of local government and the DEA—said that the several bans on storefronts and delivery services are often found originating in the antiquated groupthink of organizations such as the League of California Cities. The powerful lobbying group in Sacramento and Washington, D.C. has an entire department for city attorneys to network and mobilize on hot-button issues.
Menifee City Attorney Julie Briggs has proposed a public hearing scheduled for July 16 to discuss an ordinance to ban “mobile dispensaries.” Menifee is also a member of the League of California Cities.
Thompson says his law firm is currently working on an initiatives for a special election to bring back storefronts to Riverside. A well known polling firm is currently conducting research to draft the initiative before it can revealed to voters.
Palm Springs City Ordinance No. 1758—adopted four years ago—has been able to successfully regulate medical cannabis dispensaries that comply with the criteria found in the Guidelines for the Security and Non-Diversion of Marijuana Grown for Medical Use by the California State Attorney General.
“Enough is enough,” Thompson says. “Medical marijuana patients deserve the safe and affordable distribution of medical marijuana under California law.”