Illustration by Christine Hipp.

The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors voted to place a moratorium on marijuana dispensaries within unincorporated areas of the county in a meeting on Nov. 15.

Dana McRae, county lawyer, wrote a letter to the board on Nov. 9 suggesting the moratorium in reaction to a recent appellate court–published opinion. The Los Angeles County Superior Court decision ruled local governments in California are not allowed to authorize medical marijuana permits.

Federal and state laws regarding marijuana use are in conflict. Further, local regulations are sometimes in violation of state laws. District One county supervisor John Leopold said the decision to implement a moratorium was made to prevent breaking California law.

“Rather than opening more [cannabis dispensaries] without a clear set of rules, we decided that a moratorium was important until we get clarity about what we can and cannot do from the California Supreme Court,” Leopold said.

The tenth amendment to the Constitution states powers not granted to the federal government are within the jurisdiction of each state.

Leopold said over 74 percent of Santa Cruz County voters voted in favor of the Compassionate Use Act, or Prop 215. The 1996 measure, passed with 56 percent of the statewide vote, allowed for medicinal use of cannabis.

“We’re trying to fulfill what the voters asked us to do and we don’t want that right being taken away,” he said.

Santa Cruz County is joining the American Civil Liberties Union in a lawsuit to defend local jurisdiction over medical marijuana regulations. District Three supervisor Neal Coonerty said in an email local regulations in the county are worthy of support.

“Our ordinance has been described as a model for how jurisdictions can regulate medical marijuana dispensaries in a reasonable and responsible manner.”

Supervisor Leopold said the moratorium can be lifted at any time, but the Board of Supervisors is waiting to see how the Supreme Court addresses the issue.

“There have been other rulings that seem to contradict the Long Beach ruling,” Leopold said. “If the Supreme Court takes [the case], we will keep the moratorium in place until they rule. If they decide not to take it, we would probably make a decision on whether it was our best strategy or not.”

Both Leopold and Coonerty said they support medical cannabis like the majority of their constituents. Coonerty said he doesn’t want the law to keep people from their medicine.

“I have supported safe access for medical marijuana patients for many years,” Coonerty said, “and I remain committed to ensuring that patients will continue to have access to their medicine in Santa Cruz County.”