A battle over cannabis between California and several of its localities, focused on whether cannabis deliveries can occur in places where sales are banned, will continue through late 2020. The first trial hearing, on Thursday, ended more swiftly than expected, and Fresno County Superior Court Judge Rosemary McGuire set the date for the next hearing on November 16.
This dispute began in April 2019, when 24 cities and one county filed a complaint against the state’s Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC) over its decision the prior year to allow cannabis deliveries to consumers who live in jurisdictions that have banned cannabis businesses. The outcome of County of Santa Cruz vs Bureau of Cannabis Control will determine the shape of the largest legal cannabis market in the country. The decision also factors into California’s struggle to eliminate its thriving illegal market, which still accounts for a majority of cannabis activity in the state.
The issue in focus on Thursday was that some of the jurisdictions listed as plaintiffs do not, in fact, have bans in place. McGuire issued a tentative ruling that “the parties are ordered to brief the issue of ripeness with regard to each and every plaintiff … Plaintiffs that do not have standing are invited to withdraw. Plaintiffs that allege standing must submit evidence to show that they have an ordinance in place which is contrary” to the state’s delivery regulations.
Todd Noonan, an attorney for the plaintiffs, noted that the core of the complaint is not dependent on whether a ban is in place in those jurisdictions. Nonetheless, Noonan, as well as Deputy Attorney General Ethan Turney, representing the state, agreed to the new timeline to prepare their briefs.
The arguments at the heart of this case are simple, but significant: the localities argue that the BCC is essentially overriding their right to regulate cannabis activity within their borders, while the state argues that the law is clear that delivery is allowed statewide.
In a trial brief filed in June, the state noted that the law states: “A delivery employee may deliver to any jurisdiction within the State of California provided that such delivery is conducted in compliance with all delivery provisions of this division.” And, “[a] local jurisdiction shall not prevent delivery of cannabis or cannabis products” by legal and licensed entities. The brief goes on to say that the plaintiffs have reached the “bizarre conclusion” that this language “actually gives local jurisdictions unfettered power to ban such deliveries.”
The plaintiffs counter: “Yet, Section 26200, subdivision (a), expressly provides that Proposition 64 shall not be construed to ‘supersede or limit’ local control. The conflict is irreconcilable, and BCC’s overreach exposed.”
The chances of a final decision from the Fresno County Superior Court in 2020 look slim. And, even then, the dispute will likely remain far from over.