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Calif. Court Rules Local Governments Cannot Ban Marijuana Use, Only Growth

A perosn in a labcoat's hands holding cannabis plants.

Woman hands in white coat and blue medical gloves holding green branch cannabis with five fingers leaves, marijuana for legalization medical oil hemp

On Wednesday in the California Court of Appeals, an appellate panel ruled that local ordinances could refuse to let people in associated counties cultivate and grow medical marijuana, but could not prohibit the use or possession of said marijuana when legalized by the state.

The court emphasized this broader ruling in a legal action brought by a medical marijuana farm, Granny Purps, Inc., who violated a local ordinance by growing thousands of medical marijuana plants when the ordinance allowed for no more than 99 plants. The creators of the ordinance, the County of Santa Cruz, Calif., held that anything grown illegally becomes illegal contraband that must be seized. As a result, in 2015, local officials seized more than 2,000 plants on two occasions for which the farm sought return in the courts.

The court held that this was not legally allowable. Local officials could altogether ban the growth and cultivation of medical marijuana via the state-delegated power of local officials to determine jurisdictional land use rules, however, said officials could not seize the marijuana in the process. According to the associated opinion, while the local ordinance may make the growth and cultivation illegal, the resulting marijuana is still legal and only the state could change that fact.

California law legalized the possession, use, growth, and cultivation of medical marjiuana in 2003 via the passage of the California Medical Marijuana Program Act. The Act prohibited all criminal consequences for the aforementioned marijuana activities for all medical marijuana patients and primary care-takers, while allowing land use prohibitions on a locality-by- locality basis if said prohibitions were not enforced with criminal consequences.

The court examined multiple precedential cases to explain that while property illegal to possess can be seized by local officials, property grown illegally but still legal in substance cannot. The court then mandated that the defendant return the marijuana plants and provide Granny Purps with court costs and attorney fees.

Granny Purps, Inc. was represented by Pierce & Shearer LLP.

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