Health

Monday, May 06 2013 04:50 PM

Pot ruling a setback, not defeat, attorney says

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    By Michael Fagans / The Californian

    A person walks up to the door of the Green Coast Co-op in Oildale on Monday afternoon.

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  2. 2 of 2

    By Michael Fagans / The Californian

    A man walks up to the door of the Green Coast Co-op in Oildale on Monday afternoon.

    click to expand click to collapse
BY JAMES BURGER Californian staff writer jburger@bakersfield.com

The state supreme court ruling on medical marijuana dispensaries was not a defeat for the pot shop movement, a leading attorney said here Monday, but a setback.

Phil Ganong, an attorney representing several medical marijuana collectives in Kern County, said the ruling does not invalidate his pending cases against a law passed by voters in 2012.

In opposing the ordinance, the collectives argued that two state laws that permit the ownership and use of medical marijuana trumped any local restrictions or bans on storefront operations.

But that argument was firmly rejected Monday by the high court.

The ordinance, called Measure G, sharply limited where medical marijuana cooperatives could open storefront distribution centers.

Supervisors then enacted the law but challenges to its environmental validity and implementation by the county remain, said Mark Nations, chief deputy county counsel.

From a policy standpoint, Nations and Bakersfield City Attorney Virginia Gennaro said Monday, the state high court's ruling doesn't change much about the way the city and county deal with storefront medical marijuana shops.

The Bakersfield City Council has already banned, by resolution, the location of storefronts in any zoning district of the city.

"It's a very good ruling for cities who want to regulate," Gennaro said. "We've had a resolution on the books for years. The only difference between us and Riverside (the plaintiff in the case that went to the state Supreme Court) is that we have a resolution and they have an ordinance. Both require civil action to close an existing medical marijuana dispensary."

Dispensaries exist within the city limits and, for the most part, the city has chosen not to pursue a system of code enforcement or civil legal action to force closures of the shops, Gennaro said.

The county does not have a complete ban in place. But a storefront collective or cooperative cannot locate within one mile of a church, public school, park, child day care or any other medical marijuana operation.

And the county has been aggressive about using code enforcement procedures to back up that rule.

Since 2012, nearly all of the storefront operations in the county have shut down and multiple lawsuits challenging the county law have been filed.

Ganong said he was disappointed with the California Supreme Court's ruling. But, he said, "I am not surprised, having watched the oral arguments."

He predicted that many communities will choose to create restrictions on clinic operations and force patients who legitimately need marijuana for medicinal purposes to retreat into the "gray" market.

"It's going to swell the profits of organized crime," he said, and expose innocent people to criminals to maintain their health.

But Kern County Supervisor Mike Maggard said he took Monday's ruling as a validation of county voters' decision and the county's enforcement of Measure G.

"We're happy that the Supreme Court has upheld the rights of local government to address land-use issues within its boundaries," he said.

"It will make it easier for us to make sure we have some sort of management of an industry that doesn't want to be managed."

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