Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Ninth Circuit Holds ADA Does Not Bar California Cities from Shutting Down Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

Yesterday, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued an opinion in James v. City of Costa Mesa.  The case, brought by individuals who lawfully use medical marijuana under California law, sought to challenge efforts by two California cities to shut down medical marijuana dispensaries.  The district court denied the plaintiffs' request for a preliminary injunction, and the Ninth Circuit affirmed.  Judge Fisher, writing for himself and Judge Pregerson, explained the court's ruling:
Concerned about the possible shutdown of the collectives they rely on to obtain medical marijuana, the plaintiffs brought this action in federal district court, alleging that the cities’ actions violate Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination in the provi- sion of public services.  District Judge Guilford sympathized with the plaintiffs, but denied their application for preliminary injunctive relief on the ground that the ADA does not protect against discrimination on the basis of marijuana use, even medical marijuana use supervised by a doctor in accordance with state law, unless that use is authorized by federal law.

We affirm. We recognize that the plaintiffs are gravely ill, and that their request for ADA relief implicates not only their right to live comfortably, but also their basic human dignity. We also acknowledge that California has embraced marijuana as an effective treatment for individuals like the plaintiffs who face debilitating pain. Congress has made clear, however, that the ADA defines “illegal drug use” by reference to federal, rather than state, law, and federal law does not authorize the plaintiffs’ medical marijuana use. We therefore necessarily conclude that the plaintiffs’ medical marijuana use is not protected by the ADA.
Judge Berzon dissented in part.

The LA Times's coverage of the decision appears here.

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