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Calif. pot shop owner who lost court battle closes

Greg Risling, Associated Press

Medical marijuana demonstrators hold up signs outside of the Federal Courthouse in Sacramento, Calif., on Monday, May 6, 2013. The California Supreme Court ruled Monday that cities and counties can ban medical marijuana dispensaries, a decision likely to further diminish the network of storefront pot shops and fuel efforts to have the state regulate the industry. (AP Photo/Steve Yeater)

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The owner of a Riverside medical marijuana dispensary who lost his appeal with the state Supreme Court said Tuesday he shuttered his shop as city officials vowed to close the remaining storefronts.

Lanny Swerdlow, who co-founded the Inland Empire Patient's Health and Wellness Center, said he will comply with the ruling that gave cities and counties the ability to ban pot shops.

"It's terribly disappointing, but I was expecting a negative decision," said Swerdlow, who estimates there were between 5,000 to 6,000 people in his collective. "The (state) Supreme Court said it's not legal, so I'm not going to do it anymore."

On Monday, the state's highest court provided the clearest guidance for California cities and counties on how to regulate a proliferation of pot shops that have cropped up over the past several years.

In Riverside, city officials said they will take immediate legal action and seek to obtain a permanent injunction against 10 clinics that remained open despite a city ordinance prohibiting such businesses. The city has closed more than 50 dispensaries.

"The community is done" with the dispensaries, Mayor Rusty Bailey said. "We've had continued calls from our constituents saying we don't feel safe in our neighborhoods. The bottom line is this is about local control."

Swerdlow's dispensary was a defendant in the case decided by the state Supreme Court. In trying to enforce its ban, Riverside officials used their zoning power to declare pot clinics as public nuisances.

Medical marijuana supporters have long argued a voter-approved state law that allows the drug's use trumps any city or county ban.

But the state justices found California's medical marijuana laws don't prevent municipalities from using their local laws to prohibit dispensaries.

About 200 municipalities in California have banned retail pot sales, according to estimates from the advocacy group Americans for Safe Access, while others were awaiting the Supreme Court decision before moving ahead with their own respective bans.

David Vossbrink, a spokesman for San Jose's city manager, said the court's ruling had given the city room to revisit the issue. So far, no one is talking about banning dispensaries, which now number about 100, but the city might use its zoning and land use authority to determine guidelines, Vossbrink said.

"It really points to the challenge we have at the local level to balance a whole lot of competing goals, whether you are talking about subdivisions or environmental protections or allowing a drive-thru restaurant, or talking about where a medical marijuana enterprise can be located," he said.

In two weeks, voters in Los Angeles, where there are several hundred pot shops, will decide how dispensaries will be regulated. There are three ballot measures to choose from, but if none of them receive more than 50 percent of the vote, council members could decide to ban dispensaries. The council approved a ban last summer but later repealed it.

In nearby Long Beach, there are roughly 20 pot shops that aren't in compliance with a ban, but City Attorney Robert Shannon said the ruling "gives us more impetus to vigorously enforce the ban."

Swerdlow believes most collective patients aren't going to go to other cities where pot shops are allowed to get their medicine. He points out the closest "legal" city to Riverside in the county is more than 50 miles away in Palm Springs.

"We are going to go back to the old-fashion way and buy pot from criminals," he said. "Police are brow-beating councils to enact these bans, and it's ethically and morally wrong."


AP Writer Lisa Leff in San Francisco contributed to this report