A city or county ordinance banning marijuana dispensaries does not abrogate the medical marijuana defense in a prosecution under state criminal law. Ahmed operated a medical marijuana business in Livermore, which has a municipal ordinance that prohibits marijuana dispensaries. After an investigation that included undercover officers purchasing marijuana from Ahmed’s dispensary, he was arrested. Prior to his trial on various marijuana charges, the trial court granted the prosecution’s motion to preclude Ahmed from presenting a medical marijuana defense based upon Livermore’s ordinance. In granting the motion, the trial court relied on City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center, Inc. (2013) 56 Cal.4th 729, finding the Medical Marijuana Program Act was not a defense, as a matter of law, because Ahmed’s dispensary was located in a city that banned dispensaries. A jury convicted Ahmed of possession of marijuana for sale and money laundering. On appeal, he argued the court ruling barring him from presenting a medical marijuana defense violated his constitutional right to present a defense. Held: Reversed. The issue in Riverside was whether state medical marijuana laws preempted the ability of local governments to ban medical marijuana dispensaries within the local jurisdiction, and the court held they do not. However, “[n]othing in Riverside’s application of preemption principles supports the trial court’s conclusion that a local ban on dispensaries abrogates the medical marijuana defense in a prosecution under state criminal law.” Local ordinances do not “ify a statutory defense to violations of state law.” Additionally, no language in the state medical marijuana laws suggests that the defense under Health and Safety Code section 11362.775, subdivision (a), is not available to providers who are not compliant with local ordinances. The trial court’s ruling was erroneous as a matter of law and violated Ahmed’s constitutional right to present a defense. The error was not harmless.
The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/A149066.PDF