California Supreme Court Rules City Failed to Comply with CEQA in Adopting Medical Marijuana Ordinance

Medical Marijuana Dispensary

On August 19, 2019, the California Supreme Court unanimously ruled that San Diego failed to adequately analyze the potential environmental impacts of its medical marijuana dispensary law under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). CEQA mandates a review of any covered “project” and its environmental effects. In general, a “project” is an activity that  (1) is undertaken or funded by, or subject to the approval of, a public agency and (2) may cause “either a direct physical change in the environment, or a reasonably foreseeable indirect physical change in the environment.”  (Pub. Res. Code, § 21065.) In 2014, San Diego adopted an ordinance authorizing the establishment and medical marijuana dispensaries, and found that the adoption of the new ordinance was not a “project” under CEQA because it did not have the potential for resulting in either a direct physical change to the environment, or reasonably foreseeable indirect physical change to the environment.  The Union of Medical Marijuana Patients (UMMP) challenged the City’s failure to conduct CEQA review in a petition for writ of mandate, which was denied by the trial court. On appeal, the Court of Appeals affirmed the City’s finding that the adoption of the ordinance did not constitute a project. The Supreme Court of California reversed and remanded, finding the establishment of new businesses was capable of causing indirect physical changes in the environment such as construction and changes in citywide traffic patterns, and the City should therefore have undergone CEQA review on the potential environmental impacts of adopting the ordinance. A copy of the decision can be found here.

For more information regarding CEQA, contact Steve O’Day or Vickie Rusek.