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Setback for medical marijuana as California court upholds local ban (+video)

Some 200 California cities and towns ban medical marijuana dispensaries, creating regions where patients cannot purchase the drug legally. Advocates want the state to regulate the business.

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"While the California Supreme Court ruling ignores the needs of thousands of patients across the state, it simply maintains the status quo," said Joe Elford, chief counsel with Americans for Safe Access, which filed an amicus “friend of the court” brief in the Riverside case. "Notably, the High Court deferred to the State Legislature to establish a clearer regulatory system for the distribution of medical marijuana, which advocates and state officials are currently working on."

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Another call for statewide regulation of medical marijuana came from the Drug Policy Alliance, which called such regulation “the only way to protect patients.”

“While there are more than 50 localities within California that have adopted ordinances that comprehensively and successfully regulate medical marijuana and provide meaningful patient access,” the Drug Policy Alliance said, “many others have enacted bans over frustration and hostility at the burden of medical marijuana regulation falling at the local level. It is likely that the court’s decision today, absent action by the state Legislature, will lead to more localities enacting bans.”

Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, called the ruling “disappointing to those of us who simply want to have access to improve the quality of our lives. Now, we have the option of going to the criminal market or depend on our own green thumbs.”

But Ms. O’Keefe and other marijuana advocates are emphasizing a portion of the Monday ruling in which the justices said “nothing prevents future efforts by the Legislature, or by the People, to adopt a different approach.”

“We want to seize on the silver lining here in that there is an opportunity for the Legislature to get rid of the dysfunctional patchwork system that exists around medical marijuana in California and adopt clear regulations that will equitably provide access to the hundreds of thousands here that want medical marijuana,” Mr. Hermes, the Americans for Safe Access spokesman, says.

National marijuana organizations say the ruling has no implication for other states, but simply pushes California to do what Prop. 215 was supposed to do in the first place.

“This ruling once again emphasizes the need for state lawmakers to fulfill the mandate of Proposition 215, which calls for the state government ‘to implement a plan for the safe and affordable distribution of marijuana to all patients in medical need of marijuana,’ ” says Paul Armentano, deputy director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

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