In a giant step backwards for the marijuana industry, the California Supreme Court ruled on May 6 that cities and counties can ban medical marijuana dispensaries. The unanimous decision is destined to further diminish the number of storefront pot shops in The Golden State.

The court held that California’s medical marijuana laws do not prevent local governments from zoning dispensaries out of existence, nor do they grant qualified patients convenient access to their medicine.

Marijuana advocates blame the court’s decision on the failure of local authorities to adopt guidelines that fall short of banning dispensaries. On Monday, they argued that allowing such dispensary bans counters the intent of Proposition 215.

The court's ruling came in a legal challenge to the city of Riverside’s 2010 dispensary ban in which lawmakers used their zoning authority to declare storefront pot shops public nuisances. Americans for Safe Access estimates another 200 jurisdictions have similar prohibitions on retail pot sales. A number of counties and cities were awaiting the Supreme Court ruling before moving forward with their own bans.

Two bills aimed at statewide medical marijuana regulation and licensing are currently pending in the California Legislature. The bills would also clarify the role of dispensaries within the medical cannabis industry. According to Drug Policy Alliance Policy Manager Amanda Reiman, advocates hope any regulatory measures would require voter approval for dispensary bans, making it more difficult for local governments to shut down medical pot shops.

The number of California dispensaries has significantly dropped as local and federal authorities have cracked down. The state’s US attorneys have threatened to seize property leased to marijuana-related businesses, which has led to voluntary closings and evictions.

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