In August 2019, the State Supreme Court ruled that San Diego County failed to sufficiently analyze potential impacts of its 2014 Marijuana Dispensary Law. The ruling was unanimous and is expected to limit the discretion of local governments across California.
The court ruling decided that local governments must consider foreseeable impacts to the environment when establishing a new cannabis dispensary business. Zoning laws change and local governments must properly analyze potential impacts of these changes by conducting an environmental analysis.
San Diego county had originally declared that the 2014 Marijuana Dispensary Law didn’t require any environmental analysis. Now, it needs to study whether allowing cannabis dispensaries might result in construction of new buildings or change city wide traffic patterns, the court says.
A Los Angeles attorney, Jamie Thomas Hall, filed a suit against San Diego, saying they must make more rigorous environmental reviews when planning to add marijuana dispensaries to their city.
With this ruling, two-thirds of California cities that don’t allow marijuana businesses are forced to get in the game. It also limits cities abilities to streamline the state’s environmental laws, like housing reforms that manipulate zoning laws to build more houses.
“I think cities have been pushing the envelope of what is possible,” Hall said by phone.
Housing reforms in San Diego County, for example, involve density bonus programs that are pushed to the limit, allowing developers to build more housing than zoning permits. And, another law passed in March, grants developers the pass to build large housing projects in transit areas without any parking spaces.
San Diego County has carried out these reforms without conducting rigorous environmental reviews of potential impacts to the environment, both direct and indirect. Even if the impact is legible, the city must now look at it. It’s a 41-page ruling, which overturns a 4th District Court of Appeal in 2016 which favored the city.
“It’s a precedent-setting ruling” said Murtaza Baxamusa of the San Diego Building and Construction Trades, an influential labor union.
The impact on the city’s 23 marijuana dispensaries, remains unclear. The League of California Cities filed documents in the case, defending San Diego’s position, and agreed that its present dispensaries may not be effected.
Jessica McElfresh, a local marijuana attorney, sees little impact on existing businesses. “With the ruling, we are not expecting day-to-day existence to change for current licenses” she said. Although, future marijuana dispensaries are likely to be effected, McElfresh added.
Written By Michael Ashworth, Contributor