Pot victory in Centennial: Judge rules city can't shut down dispensary

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It'll be a happy new year for dispensary owners since Arapahoe County District Court Judge Christopher Cross ruled today that the city of Centennial has to back off from its recent dispensary ban. The decision came as part of a lawsuit filled on behalf of CannaMart, a Centennial dispensary that the city shut down in October despite the operation having a valid business license. According to Bob Hoban, one of CannaMart's attorneys, Cross didn't go for the city's argument that marijuana distribution isn't a valid land use because it's illegal under federal law.

"He said local governments cannot choose what constitutional amendments they want to follow," says Hoban of Cross' decision, which granted the dispensary's request for an injunction allowing it to reopen. "He basically looked at the city's reliance on federal law as a joke, saying that cities can't enforce or should be able to rely on federal law." It's a decision that Hoban believes could have repercussions in other cities with similar bans like Aurora, Greenwood Village and Castle Rock.

But it may not be the final word on the case; the injunction is temporary, pending the case being resolved out of court of having to go to a full trial. Centennial may also appeal Cross' decision, though Hoban adds that the judge made his opinion so clear in his half-hour-long finding that to him it seemed like a done deal.

"The reasoning was so fine and detailed I think anyone would have difficulty getting around it," says Hoban. "It should send a message to local governments that they can't pick and choose what constitutional amendments they can abide be." He notes that one of his colleagues, Lauren Davis, may use Cross' decision as part of a lawsuit she plans to soon file challenging Castle Rock's recent shut-down of the dispensary Plants 4 Life.

The CannaMart case had an added twist: During a hearing on the matter two weeks ago, Cross revealed that Arapahoe County District Attorney Carol Chambers had made it clear she'd be checking out medical marijuana patients who gave testimony in the case to see if they should be prosecuted. Chambers has also announced that she'll revoke the probation of anyone caught smoking medical marijuana, no matter the circumstances.

In response, Hoban notes that he's aware of several California court cases that state that "if you are using medical marijuana, it cannot be deemed a violation of probation." While there has yet to be a similar case in Colorado, he believes the judges may eventually rule the same way, especially since in this state, the right to use medical marijuana isn't just a statutory law, like in California, but is part of the state constitution. Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey has said his office is working on a policy about medical marijuana use on probation.

And what of CannaMart, the Centennial dispensary that started it all? Hoban says the operation will re-open soon, since Cross made it clear it could do so "as soon as today."

Talk about a smokin' new year's present.

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