Atwater joins lawsuit with 23 other cities against California marijuana agency

The city of Atwater joined a group of 25 local governments seeking to invalidate state rules that allow marijuana deliveries, despite local regulations against them.

Twenty-four cities and Santa Cruz County announced Friday they are part of the lawsuit filed in Fresno County Superior Court.

Atwater Mayor Paul Creighton said it’s important that marijuana-based businesses comply with the laws set up by local jurisdictions.

“We support local control,” he said. “We don’t want the state coming in and telling us what to do.”

According to the Safe Implementation of Marijuana Policy for Local Government, the group wants to stop recent regulations by the state Bureau of Cannabis Control that “violate the will of the voters and the law by purporting to allow delivery of ... cannabis ... even in those communities that have regulated or banned commercial cannabis.”

Other cities joining the lawsuit include six in Stanislaus County – Ceres, Newman, Oakdale, Patterson, Riverbank and Turlock. Others are Clovis, Sonora, Tracy, Angels Camp, Dixon, Vacaville, Agoura Hills, Arcadia, Beverly Hills, Covina, Downey, McFarland, Palmdale, Riverside, San Pablo, Tehachapi and Temecula.

The lawsuit argues a key promise of Proposition 64, the measure which legalized commercial cannabis, was that local jurisdictions would have the right to regulate or prohibit weed deliveries.

After initially banning cannabis altogether, like most cities in the state, Atwater has decided to allow it as one part of its plan to reach economic health.

Atwater has a more than $2 million general fund deficit and other unfunded liabilities. Most of the public employees have also been furloughed on Fridays since 2012.

Merced County has banned marijuana businesses of any type in the unincorporated areas. Cannabis users and advocates have said delivery is their only option in cannabis deserts like Merced County.

The group of cities in the lawsuit argue the state’s rules for delivery to not take into account the diversity of its communities.

“By disregarding local governments’ reasonable regulatory authority on cannabis deliveries, the BCC has imposed a one-size-fits-all approach to cannabis regulation,” said Carolyn Coleman, executive director of the League of California Cities.

Advocates for the marijuana industry said they anticipated the lawsuit and argued it would cause Californians to continue buying cannabis from black-market dealers instead of state-regulated businesses.

They’re also preparing to lobby against a bill by Assemblyman Ken Cooley, D-Rancho Cordova, that would undo the regulation permitting statewide cannabis delivery services.

“The true threats to public safety are the unlicensed, unregulated, untaxed services that don’t care if there’s a delivery ban or not,” said Max Mikalonis, a lobbyist at K Street Consulting in Sacramento. “If you ban legal delivery and the lawsuit succeeds, then you’re shutting out the legal market.”

Californians in 2016 voted to legalize retail marijuana sales. The initiative gave local jurisdictions power to grant permits, and some cities have chosen restrict cannabis sales.

The Sacramento Bee last year found that residents in 40 percent of the state had to drive 60 miles or more to reach a licensed cannabis retailer.

The Bureau of Cannabis Control on Friday declined to comment on the lawsuit.