The United States Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals made the decision on May 21, 2012 to uphold the denial of a request to keep the city councils of Costa Mesa and Lake Forest from shutting down local dispensaries. The appeal, which stated that the act of closing dispensaries and denying patients their medicine was in direct violation of the Americans with Disability Act (ADA), was denied by a three-judge panel that issued the ruling via a vote of 2-1 in favor of closing down the dispensaries.
The case, known as James vs the City of Costa Mesa, originated from a lawsuit filed against the cities of Lake Forest and Costa Mesa, California. The lawsuit was initiated by four medical marijuana patients who were recognized by the Appeals court as “severely disabled” residents, who felt their civil rights were being violated by a decision that could keep them from accessing medicine that is essential for the management of chronic pain caused by their conditions.
Although medical marijuana was decriminalized in California in 1996 through the passing of proposition 215, in 2004 an amendment known as State Bill 420 gave cities/counties the authority to pass local regulations that restrict the operation of dispensaries within their jurisdictions. As a result, residents of specific areas in California have found themselves unable to safely access medicine that has been prescribed to them by a licensed physician.
Despite a local dispensary ban being imposed in the city of Costa Mesa in 2005, five dispensaries defiantly opened their doors to the public, and as a result have been raided by local authorities, and have had to deal with ongoing political pressure. In a final attempt to reverse the decision that has caused the shutdown of dispensaries in these two California cities, plaintiffs argued the notion that the decision to ban dispensaries in their areas should be overruled because it violates Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
During the beginning of the majority ruling, Judge Raymond Fischer gave medical marijuana proponents some hope that the appeal would be successful, stating that the court recognized that “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.” He even stated that “California has embraced marijuana as an effective treatment for individuals… who face debilitating pain.” However, in a surprising turn of events he issued the final ruling stating that although “the federal government’s views on the wisdom of restricting medical marijuana use may be evolving… Congress has determined that, for the purposes of federal law, marijuana is unacceptable for medical use.”
Upon analyzing the ruling it becomes clear that the judge acknowledges the medical use of marijuana as accepted in California, and even implies that the “wisdom of restricting medical marijuana is evolving,” but still chooses to deny the plaintiff’s requests based on nothing more than the “purposes of federal law” (the federal government’s archaic legal restrictions).