Last week, the California Supreme Court upheld the right of local governments to ban medical marijuana dispensaries using zoning laws, including dispensaries currently in operation.

While there are no longer any walk-in dispensaries in Santa Barbara County due to countywide restrictions and federal enforcement, various deliver-only dispensaries still operate throughout the area. Despite state laws that allow for the possession and use of medical marijuana by qualified patients, the unanimous ruling will give municipalities the ability to “zone” dispensaries out of existence.

Isla Vista Medical Clinic founder Dr. David Bearman, who practices in Goleta and advocates for the use of cannabis as a pain reliever, said the ruling is an action taken by the California Supreme Court to clarify Proposition 215. Passed in 1996, Prop 215 removed state sanctions to patients obtaining legally prescribed cannabis.

“Prop 215 has always been vague,” Bearman said. “In the city of Santa Barbara, there is an ordinance that says that [dispensaries] cannot exist, but Prop 215 does not address that.”

According to Bearman, 80 percent of Americans approve the use of cannabis for medical purposes, and in a proposal entitled “Dispensary Regulation,” he claims marijuana relieves severe medical symptoms and conditions including epilepsy, migraines, gastrophoresis, seizures, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, fibromyalgia and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Bearman said he believes cannabis should be regulated through dispensaries, similar to pharmaceutical and hospital dispensaries, and citizens should petition the U.S. Supreme Court to be more conservative regarding the commerce clause.

“The main reason I advocate for marijuana is that it has a very impressive range of therapeutic applications,” Bearman said. “Cannabis is one of the safest therapeutic agents known to man.”

Santa Barbara Chief Deputy District Attorney Hilary Dozer clarified the court’s ruling, and said its implementation is subject to the jurisdiction of individual ordinance zones, and not the Santa Barbara DA’s office.

“The DA’s office, generally speaking, is there to enforce the laws in place. Zoning laws are almost never the jurisdiction of the DA’s office, at least in Santa Barbara County. We don’t really get involved in zoning issues. The city council would be the ones brought in if there were any issues involving storefront marijuana dispensaries,” Dozer said.

According to Dozer, the DA’s office will become involved if marijuana users or sellers violate specific laws, but cannot impact any future decisions to prohibit certain dispensaries.

“Whether the ruling is useful or not depends on one’s point of view. It depends on the decisions of those with the ability to allow or prohibit the sale of storefront marijuana,” Dozer said. “It certainly doesn’t change the position of the District Attorney’s office, or of the federal government. We certainly have situations where individuals are transporting marijuana and those remain discrete crimes. People with a medical condition are allowed to possess certain amounts of marijuana, and there are certain things required for legal purchase.”

Though the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors moved to ban all medical marijuana dispensaries in unincorporated county areas in the fall of 2011, the city of Santa Barbara allowed for four storefront dispensaries to remain in operation until last May, when all four were shut down after Drug Enforcement Administration raids and asset forfeiture warning letters from the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Richard, an employee at Goleta-based medical marijuana dispensary SB Organic Supply who declined to use his full name, said the new ruling will not affect the dispensary’s business.

“We’re not breaking any laws. We’re paying our taxes and doing the paperwork, and that’s all acceptable at this time,” Richard said. “There are no dispensaries in Santa Barbara, only delivery centers, because all of them closed down a year ago.”

Bearman said marijuana’s benefits greatly outweigh its costs, and it would be inhumane to deny medical marijuana to those who need it.

“A hundred years of propaganda should not trump over 50 years of modern research, 20,000 years of basic science and clinical studies on cannabis and cannabinoids, 5,000 years of history and the experiences of millions of patients around the world who gain therapeutic benefit [from medical marijuana],” Bearman said. “We need to amend and enforce the dispensary ordinance with sensitivity and concern for our fellow human beings who have significant health problems.”

A dispensary worker displays his product, which may soon be in short supply since the state has upheld the right of local governments to “zone” these clinics out of existence.
 A version of this article appeared on page 1 of the May 15th, 2013’s print edition of the Nexus