Sonoma County Cooperative’s Challenge to Local Zoning Ordinance is Struck Down on Statute of Limitations Grounds

by Joshua R. Dale 
A Sonoma County medical marijuana cooperative that had won a zoning victory against Sonoma County saw its victory short-lived as the First District Court of Appeal overturned a lower court decision that had allowed the cooperative to stay in operation.  The County had ordered the cooperative to cease operations after it opened a dispensary in Guerneville, without having applied for a permit for operation.  A superior court judge had found that the Sonoma County ordinance requiring the cooperative to obtain a special use permit in order to operate in certain portions of the county was facially invalid.

The appellate court found that the cooperative’s lawsuit was untimely, having not been filed within 90 days of the passage of the ordinance.  Because the cooperative had never attempted to apply for a permit, the cooperative’s challenge was limited to the language of the ordinance itself, and it could not challenge to how the law specifically affected the cooperative.  Absent an adverse ruling against the cooperative, the cooperative’s limited challenge was some two-and-a-half years late.

The result of the appellate court’s ruling is that the cooperative will have to apply for a permit and see if the permit is denied before it may again attack the zoning ordinance in court.  In the meantime, the cooperative will have to remain closed until it successfully or unsuccessfully completes the permit application process.  In the grand scheme of medical marijuana dispensary law, this decision will have little impact on other collectives and cooperatives litigating with municipalities over the conditions of their operation, however, it does highlight how municipalities are aware of and fully invested in using the land-use restriction as their most successful tool in opposing the operation of cooperatives and collectives in their jurisdictions. 

County of Sonoma v. Superior Court (Marvin’s Gardens Cooperative, Inc.) (1st Dist., Dec. 15, 2010) Case No. A128734