[Updated With Info On Upcoming Hearing] Long Beach Marijuana Dispensary Ban is Illegal, Court Rules
*See end of post for information about the next hearing in this case as well as the Long Beach City Attorney's response, denying that the city's pot ban has been invalidated.
ORIGINAL POST, Sept. 8, 5:23 p.m.: A Los Angeles Superior Court ruling may have far reaching consequences for Long Beach's ban on medical marijuana dispensaries.
According to a press release issued today by the law offices of Matthew J. Pappas, L.A. Superior Court Judge James R. Dunn struck down the city's ban of marijuana dispensaries, arguing that such a ban conflicted with state law, which allows medical marijuana patients to collectively cultivate and consume cannabis.
The two-page ruling, which the Weekly obtained from Pappas, is dated Aug. 17, and specifically overrules the city's prohibition of pot clubs, a civic ordinance known as 5.89. In it, Dunn wrote that the ban is "virtually identical" to an L.A. county ban that had already been struck down and "is therefore preempted by state law." The ruling gave the city 15 days to respond, and it is unclear if the city bothered to do so and if so, how the court responded to that effort.
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Pappas had filed the case in Dunn's court back in May, alleging that his daughter, plaintiff Victoria Pappas, had been severely injured in an assault the previous year, and unlike patients who can easily obtain oxycontin and other addictive painkillers at the local pharmacy, had to risk being subjected to Long Beach's policy of raiding pot clubs just to obtain medication she was entitled to use via California's Compassionate Use Act.
After allowing cannabis clubs to apply for an expensive lottery system that was later ruled illegal in a case filed by Pappas himself, the city banned pot clubs on Feb. 14 of this year, allowing a select group of lottery-winners to remain open for six months, a deadline that expired in August, by which time most of those clubs had shuttered as well.
In an email, Pappas said that his secretary hadn't opened the ruling and had placed it in a large stack of mail, which is why he didn't discover it until yesterday. "Now, we'll go in to get an injunctive relief order, but the finding by the judge is substantive and it is a finding that 5.89 is preempted and invalid," Pappas stated.
In other words, Pappas, who represents numerous cannabis clubs in Long Beach, including many that were either shut down by the city or closed voluntarily after being raided, hopes to use Dunn's ruling that the city's ban violates state law to obtain a court order that would prevent the city from raiding any of his clients.
Stay tuned, since we'll be updating this story as more information--most importantly whether the city has responded to the ruling--becomes available. For now, however, it appears that Long Beach's ill-fated foray into medical marijuana policy has just become even more expensive for city hall.
Update, Sept. 11, 9:25 a.m.: In response to this post, the Long Beach City Attorney emailed us a letter yesterday evening denying that Dunn's ruling that the city's pot ban is "invalid" actually means that the city's pot ban is invalid. As my original post noted, attorney Matt Pappas, who sued the city on behalf of his daughter, plans to use that ruling to ask for an injunction that would prevent the city from continuing to raid cannabis clubs in the city. Despite this fact, the city attorney whines that I somehow got my facts wrong, insisting that my article is "incorrect and leaves the false impression that the City's current ban on medical marijuana collectives has been held invalid."
The statement goes on to complain that Dunn "did not consider or rule on any request for a preliminary injunction or temporary restraining order related to the City's ban. It simply denied the City's demurrer and directed the City to answer the complaint within 15 days." According to the letter, the city has responded to Dunn's ruling and is awaiting further developments in the case. "It should be pointed out that during the past two months, several courts on more than a half dozen occasions have specifically refused to issue an injunction against the city's ban," it states. "Mr. Pappas knows these facts well. The article has clearly conveyed an incorrect impression of the Court's ruling in this case."
Wahhh! At least the city attorney didn't threaten to sue us, like when Long Beach Post reporter Greggory Moore wrote a story about how one of its employees, Kendra Carney, was allegedly present at a pot club raid where cops brutalized a handcuffed employee.
Update, Sept. 17, 10:50 a.m.: In a hearing on Sept. 14, Judge Dunn refused to rule on Pappas' request for a preliminary injunction against Long Beach, which would prevent the city from targeting cannabis clubs for violating its questionable pot ban. Instead, Dunn has asked City Attorney Kendra Carney to consolidate the 15 civil lawsuits it currently has against individual dispensaries that allegedly violated the ban into one case. Once that has been accomplished, Dunn stated, he will then consider the merits of any such injunction. The good news for the cannabis clubs is that if he does make such a ruling, it now will automatically apply to 15 clubs. The next hearing in the case is scheduled for Oct. 12.
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