The California Supreme Court got it right Monday when it unanimously ruled that local governments have authority to ban certain activities -- in this case marijuana dispensaries -- from operating within their borders.
While marijuana advocates are upset by the ruling, they simply did not have the law on their side.
The truth is that this case was about much more than marijuana dispensaries.
At its core, the issue here is local control. In short, whether a local jurisdiction can determine what activities constitute a nuisance to the community. The court ruled the state constitution clearly gives that right to local governance. We agree. The language is clear and unambiguous.
"The California Constitution recognizes the authority of cities and counties to make and enforce, within their borders all local, police, sanitary and other ordinances and regulations not in conflict with general laws," Justice Marvin Baxter wrote. "This inherent local police power includes broad authority to determine, for purposes of the public health, safety, and welfare, the appropriate uses of land within a local jurisdiction's borders, and pre-emption by state law is not lightly presumed."
This decision should surprise no one since, as was pointed out in the opinion, the court had ruled long ago that local jurisdictions could effectively brand otherwise legal activities as nuisances and ban them within the local jurisdiction. It is the legal basis on which local governments, including Alameda County, relied to effectively ban gun shows.
Those asking the court to outlaw the local bans relied heavily on the 1996 passage of Proposition 215 that allowed the use of medical marijuana, which this paper endorsed, as an expression of the voters' will and, as such, should trump local control.
But the court was right to notice that Proposition 215 was merely a permissive action of a heretofore illegal activity and it did not mandate that local governments accommodate dispensaries.
The court did, however, note that it might be possible for the Legislature to take action in this arena. We are certain that such debate will take place in Sacramento after this ruling, but frankly doubt that it will result in much change.
The effect of the ruling is to uphold the right of at least 180 cities across the state and Bay Area to implement bans on marijuana dispensaries.
Of course, the Bay Area's largest cities -- San Jose, San Francisco and Oakland -- have taken a different approach on this issue as they have permitted the dispensaries, but have taxed the revenues.
The question of where dispensaries may operate is but one of several vexing issues surrounding California's medical marijuana laws. In our minds, the other two important unsettled ones are that the federal government has aggressively maintained that possession and use of marijuana is illegal under federal law and that regulating the issuance of medical marijuana cards has been lax at best and often fraudulent.
This ruling does nothing to address those issues. But it should settle the dispensaries issue, at least for now. It is time to move on to the other ones.