Judge: Pot shops have constitutional rights

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CENTENNIAL, Colo. (AP) — Medical marijuana patients have a constitutional right to buy pot, not just use it, according to a judicial ruling made yesterday.

Arapahoe County District Court Judge Christopher Cross sided with the CannaMart dispensary, which sued the city of Centennial after it was shut down in October.

Cross granted the dispensary’s request for an injunction, which will prevent the city from keeping the dispensary closed while CannaMart challenges the city’s argument that it can ban pot shops because they violated federal drug laws.

Colorado in 2000 passed a constitutional amendment allowing medical marijuana, which is now allowed in 14 states. Recent decisions by state health authorities, along with a signal this year from the U.S. attorney general that federal prosecutors won’t interfere with state pot rules, have led to an explosion of commercial marijuana stores across Colorado.

In the oral ruling, the judge had sharp words for cities that say federal drug laws allow them to keep out any dispensaries. Cross said the city violated the rights of three medical marijuana patients who joined the lawsuit.

“These are people who have a right to medical marijuana, the right to the caregiver of their choice. That has been taken away from them,” Cross said.

CannaMart’s owner, Stan Zislis, said after the decision that he wasn’t sure if he would reopen the shop in Centennial. Zislis has opened a new CannaMart in the nearby suburb of Littleton.

The judge’s decision left unresolved a zoning dispute between Centennial and CannaMart, which had about 600 clients at the time it was closed. The city also has passed a moratorium on new dispensaries, so CannaMart cannot move and reopen elsewhere in Centennial.

Lauren Davis, a lawyer for CannaMart, said the judge’s words “should be a warning to towns across this state” that are considering whether to ban dispensaries. Another town south of Denver, Castle Rock, has also cited federal drug laws in forcing a dispensary there to stop selling marijuana.

“They are violating the rights of sick patients and caregivers,” Davis said.

One of the patients who sued, Eric Mosher, said CannaMart’s closure made it difficult for him to obtain medical marijuana recommended for a debilitating nerve ailment.

“It’s hard enough to be in the situation I’m in,” Mosher said after the ruling.

Centennial’s lawyer, Robert Widner, said it was too soon to say how city officials would proceed.

The judge scheduled further legal discussion in the case for next year. He concluded by saying that cities wanting to get rid of all dispensaries could find themselves violating constitutional rights.

Even though federal laws ban the sale of marijuana, Cross said, “The voters have spoken. It is not a criminal act in the state of Colorado.”