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California Supreme Court poised to rule on bans of pot dispensaries

February 5, 2013 |  9:09 am

Photo: Chris Cantella, the cultivation manager at Avalon Wellness Center, tends to his indoor crop of marijuana in the Closed Grow Environment room at the Avalon Wellness Center in Long Beach. Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times
The state's highest court is scheduled to hear oral arguments Tuesday in a case that will decide if cities and counties can ban cannabis dispensaries.  The Times will add the live stream from the hearing in San Francisco as soon as it becomes available. Arguments in the case of the City of Riverside vs. Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness is set to start at 10 a.m. PST. 

The long-awaited ruling by the California Supreme Court follows years of contradictory decisions by the lower courts operating in a void because the state Legislature has yet to define the law or pass detailed regulations. California voters approved the use of medical marijuana in 1996.

If the court upholds bans passed by more than 200 local governments, as some legal analysts expect, more such measures are likely to be adopted.

LIVE VIDEO: Watch the California Supreme Court hearing

The court also could clarify other parts of the state's medical marijuana law, though no one expects its pronouncement to end the confusion.

"This is a subject matter that requires detailed regulations, and the California Legislature hasn't done the job," said Alex Kreit, a law professor who has advised San Diego on medical marijuana law.

Kreit pointed out that Colorado implemented its medical marijuana law with hundreds of regulations in a "fairly smooth process." California legislators have yet to adopt requirements for state licensing and labeling of marijuana, among other issues.

That has left judges struggling to interpret the law and local governments uncertain of how to enforce it. Prosecutors also have been vexed. Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris sent letters to legislative leaders in 2011 pleading for action.

"For some reason, the perception in Sacramento has been that this will go away, that this is radioactive, so there has been a lack of leadership and commitment on the issue," said Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), who last year introduced a bill to regulate medical marijuana. "That is changing."

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-- Maura Dolan

Photo: Chris Cantella, the cultivation manager at Avalon Wellness Center, tends to his indoor crop of marijuana in the Closed Grow Environment room at the Avalon Wellness Center in Long Beach. Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times

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