The bottom-line result of Judge Stephen Baker’s ruling Thursday against Redding’s attempt to close its medical-marijuana dispensaries reflects straightforward common sense: The city cannot declare wholesale nuisances of what the state has specifically authorized, especially without evidence of actual problems.
But the legal path to that decision is anything but straightforward, and any hope for clear common sense in the handling of medical marijuana in California is increasingly elusive, as a maddening string of contradictory appellate-court rulings rewrite the law almost by the week.
Redding’s decision to ban its storefront collectives, remember, was prompted by a November court decision ( Pack v. Long Beach ) that invalidated any local licensing systems, like Redding’s, that officially authorized marijuana sales. Federal law pre-empts such ordinances, the court held. But the California Supreme Court has subsequently accepted an appeal of that case and “depublished” the decision, meaning it is no longer binding law, at least this month.
Meanwhile, the key Court of Appeal decision out of Orange County that lost Redding the case came after the city and the dispensaries had made their arguments and Baker even issued a tentative ruling. The law – or at least the way it is interpreted by higher courts – changed repeatedly in over the course of one, relatively brief lawsuit.
Remember when President Obama’s Justice Department said it wouldn’t prosecute medical-marijuana cases where the growers or patients were following state law? These days, how’s anyone supposed to know what’s legal and what isn’t?
The Supreme Court sooner or later will hear and settle some of these disputes, with any luck bringing clarity to the law. That can’t come soon enough.
In the meantime, cities including Redding that decided to launch costly crackdowns would do well to revisit their strategy and reconsider the virtues of waiting and seeing, without letting up on actual nuisances. Even if they’re just trying to maintain order and follow the law, these days the law in this field changes faster than the ink on court rulings can dry.