CALIFORNIA: A prominent attorney is suing to overturn Murrieta’s ban on medical marijuana dispensaries in all zones, as well as mobile operators who make deliveries.
Temecula attorney Ray Johnson filed the suit Oct. 3 in Riverside County Superior Court on behalf of Compassionate Care Beneficiaries, a Temecula Valley group of medical marijuana users and their primary caregivers. The suit says one group member is Johnson’s wife, Polly, who is battling cancer.
Johnson, who specializes in litigation against development projects, is invoking the same environmental law in challenging the medical marijuana ban. He acknowledged the case is somewhat personal. He said marijuana helped his wife tolerate severe pain and maintain her weight and will to fight the disease.
“She went from being curled up in a ball and giving up to being a fully functional person,” Johnson said by telephone Monday, Oct. 7.
In an earlier interview, he said, “I am convinced that medical marijuana saved my wife’s life.”
The action comes days after the Murrieta City Council on Oct. 1 gave final approval for the citywide ban in the community of 105,000.
The suit alleges Murrieta violated the California Environmental Quality Act. It says the city failed to evaluate air pollution and traffic impacts that will occur as a result of forcing residents who use marijuana legally for medicinal purposes to drive miles farther to obtain it.
Because there are numerous municipal bans, Johnson said medicinal users must drive to Palm Springs or Los Angeles to find a dispensary — or pursue marijuana through illicit means.
“Why the city would try to force people to go out and deal with drug dealers makes no sense whatsoever,” he said.
Medicinal use by Californians suffering from such ailments as cancer, AIDS and chronic pain was authorized in 1996 with the passage of a statewide initiative.
But, in May, the California Supreme Court concluded cities didn’t have to provide places for dispensaries, in upholding a Riverside ban. Murrieta has since followed Riverside’s lead.
“In this particular case, an environmental lawsuit against the city of Murrieta for doing what the Supreme Court says we have every right to do is a bit of a stretch,” said Mayor Rick Gibbs.
Johnson countered that he isn’t contesting the city’s ability to ban dispensaries, but its failure to undertake an environmental study.
City Attorney Leslie Devaney said Murrieta properly handled the matter, and did not have to do a study.
Murrieta eliminated an existing ban under a section of city code that covers business licenses, and replaced it with a new ban under land-use rules – where Riverside’s law rests. The ban was broadened to include mobile dispensaries.
It is unclear if a court victory would force Murrieta, Riverside or other cities back to square one in their fight against dispensaries.
“Even if he (Johnson) were to win, the city would still have an effective ban,” Devaney said, saying the old rules would be reinstated.
Gibbs said Johnson was capitalizing on a state law that needs reform.
“Mr. Johnson is representative of a class of lawyers who, because of their expertise, are able to exploit holes in CEQA,” he said.