CA high court medical cannabis ruling unlikely to cause major disruption to industry, key attorney says

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California cannabis, CA high court medical cannabis ruling unlikely to cause major disruption to industry, key attorney says

At first blush, it may seem as if the California Supreme Court’s ruling on a medical marijuana case would prove a big deal for the state’s cannabis industry.

But that’s not really the case, according to one California cannabis attorney who’s also an expert in state environmental law, on which the ruling is centered.

In its ruling, the California high court held that San Diego skipped a required environmental review process when it established a municipal medical marijuana law in 2014.

Attorney Pamela Epstein, however, predicted the ruling won’t be hugely disruptive to the industry. Epstein is an expert on the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which is the state law at the center of the case.

“It’s not really a case that’s going to be meaningful,” Epstein said Wednesday, “because it’s been remanded back to the trial courts,” meaning the case could still take years to play out.

“It’s about whether or not you have to look more closely about the potential impacts of a zoning adjustment” at the local level for MJ companies, she noted.

Still, the case has the potential to force San Diego to rework city laws governing the cannabis industry, said Jamie Hall, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs in the case.

“The court of appeal is going to vacate its ruling and issue the opposite ruling,” Hall said, “and then it’ll go to the trial court, and then the question will be, ‘What does that mean?’

“Does that mean the ordinance gets invalidated? … These are open questions.”

Epstein also noted that other California cities and counties that may be taking the CEQA into account while crafting their own new marijuana industry regulations won’t have to learn from San Diego’s mistakes – at least for now.

That’s because a major cannabis reform package from the legislature – Assembly Bill 97 – granted yet another extension for localities so they don’t have to comply with CEQA until July 2021. A previous exemption for such compliance expired last month.

“So cities are still in the same place: If you’re going to regulate through an ordinance, that ordinance can still be exempted from CEQA (until July 2021),” Epstein said.

However, the ruling is a reminder that all marijuana companies in California will eventually have to be fully in compliance with CEQA and all local cannabis industry regulations will also have to take the Act into account, Epstein noted.

“For now, because we have this limited exemption that’s moving forward, this is still an advent of education” regarding CEQA compliance, Epstein said.

John Schroyer can be reached at