Impatient Patients are Taking Action
By Alex Distefano
Whether you’re for it or against it, support for the legalization of medical and recreational cannabis is at an all time high, nationwide. Not only do 20 out of 50 states—and the District of Columbia—have some sort of law regulating the use and cultivation of medical cannabis, but also, Colorado and Washington have decriminalized the use and possession of small amounts for adults and are beginning to allow for recreational use as well.
Times are indeed a-changin, as Bob Dylan sang in his iconic song from 1965. But even as major polls show that a majority of Americans support legalization, there are still several uphill battles facing opponents of the cannabis prohibition, and advocates for medical patients who use the plant.
In California, Prop 215 was passed in 1996, and opened the floodgates for legal medical use and cultivation. Dispensaries, or “pot shops,” were allowed for patients with a valid recommendation from a licensed physician, under the caveat of operating non-profits.
But, since Federal law considers cannabis to be just as illegal as methamphetamine or heroin, there is much confusion over state and local municipalities. Some cities, such as Riverside, even banned dispensaries all together. These bans from various cities throughout the state have resulted in various lawsuits from medical patients.
But last May, the California Supreme Court made a ruling in favor of Riverside’s ban, by agreeing that the city has the legal authority to ban them through its land use authority.
But Riverside isn’t the only local city dealing with a ban on medical cannabis shops. Now, one area attorney is fighting the city of Murietta’s ban on medical cannabis, by taking his case to court in hopes of showing that it has a clear environmental affect that he argues the city ignored.
Temecula Attorney Ray Johnson, on behalf of Compassionate Care Beneficiaries filed a lawsuit earlier this month to challenge Murrieta’s ban on all medical cannabis dispensaries, which includes mobile dispensaries that make deliveries. Johnson recently told the Weekly that this fight is personal, and not motivated by monetary gains. He said his wife has stage four cancer and is a legitimate medical cannabis patient, which alleviates her pain, nausea and discomforting side effects from chemotherapy, including weakness and low appetite.
In terms of a time frame for his lawsuit, Johnson said that it normally takes about eight months for these types of suit to go to trial. “What my suit does, is not try to overturn the city’s ability to regulate medical cannabis dispensaries, instead, it says that if you’re going to do that you need to consider the environmental consequences of your actions before you do it,” Johnson told the Weekly.
Murietta, according to Johnson, failed to review these affects, thus creating a question of legality, in his opinion. “With a ban in place in the city, their medical cannabis users are forced to go to L.A. or Palm Springs to obtain their medicine,” he said. “All these patients having to drive all these extra trips, each week people are going to be driving means additional impacts on traffic and air quality. We feel this is something the city should have considered before adopting this ban.”
No one from the city of Murietta could be reached for comment. Johnson claims that his lawsuit hopes to prove in court that the city has not complied with the California Environmental Quality Act from 1970, which requires state and local agencies to ” disclose and evaluate the significant environmental impacts of proposed projects and adopt all feasible mitigation to reduce or eliminate those impacts,” according to the state Attorney General website.
“The city of Murietta can claim they didn’t do anything wrong in terms of complying with the state Environmental Quality Act,” Johnson said. “But in my opinion it is clear they did, because they didn’t consider any of the environmental impacts that I have laid out in my lawsuit.”
Johnson said that although he is in favor of medical cannabis for individuals with legitimate health problems, he is also in favor of true legalization. “It would be easier if it were legal for recreational purposes, because then you don’t have to rely only on dispensaries necessarily,” he said. “I think cities are being very short-sighted I think when you have a state wide referendum to say medical cannabis should be available to those who need it, and they decide they don’t want it in their town, I think the response to that will ultimately be a backlash and the likely result will just decriminalize it.”