The medical marijuana industry scored major legal wins in Arizona and California several weeks ago, when judges in two separate cases sided with MMJ.
But the victories, while important, do not mark the end of the cases. Another critical court hearing is scheduled for today in both cases, representing the next battle in a larger war. Pay close attention: The outcome of these cases could make or break the industry in each state and will have large implications on the MMJ business nationally.
Here’s an update on each situation and what it means for MMJ:
Arizona – Earlier this month, a judge ruled in favor of the medical marijuana industry in a decision that essentially gave the go-ahead for dispensaries to open. However, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery appealed the ruling and asked the judge to suspend the initial decision while the process plays out. The judge denied the request, so Montgomery asked the appeals court to temporarily block the ruling. The court will hear the request today.
The stakes: If the court sides with Montgomery, it could give state and local officials the ability to close down dispensaries and prevent new ones from opening while the appeal is considered. The first medical marijuana centers opened this month in Arizona, and dozens more plan to launch soon in light of the initial ruling. Dispensaries that received permission from the state to move forward must get up and running by August 2013 or they’ll lose the right to open at all. So any delays or setbacks in that process would throw the industry into chaos.
California – Three weeks ago, a judge ruled that a landlord cannot immediately evict California-based Harborside Health Center despite receiving a civil forfeiture notice from the federal government. The ruling set a favorable legal precedent for dispensaries and has allowed Harborside to continue operating for now. But the feds are still trying to close the dispensary via civil forfeiture laws, and a US District Court will hold a hearing on the case at 10 am Pacific time today. The court will consider motions by Harborside’s landlords in Oakland and San Jose to prohibit the dispensary from selling marijuana while the forfeiture case is pending. It also will hear arguments by the City of Oakland, which has sided with Harborside and is challenging the government’s forfeiture actions.
The stakes: If the court backs the landlords, Harborside would be barred from selling medical marijuana while its forfeiture case plays out. That would cripple Harborside, which ranks as the country’s largest medical marijuana dispensary, and could have repercussions for other dispensaries facing civil forfeiture threats.
Henry Wykowski – lead attorney for Harborside – said that preventing Harborside from dispensing marijuana at this time would amount to a “grave injustice.”
“If granted, (the motions) will deprive Harborside of the right to fully develop and present its case,” Wykowski said. “Harborside should have the right to conduct discovery, present its arguments and have a jury decide, nothing less.” He added that the stakes are high, saying “the future of the medical cannabis industry and the well-being of hundreds of thousands of patients.”