Several cities in the Bay Area, including San Pablo, Dixon and Vacaville, are among 25 local governments in California suing the state to block local home delivery of marijuana.
Filed late Thursday in Fresno County Superior Court, the suit alleges that a new state rule permitting "commercial cannabis deliveries to any physical address in the state" conflicts with the authority of local governments to prohibit marijuana deliveries within their jurisdictions.
The lawsuit, which asks the court to invalidate the rule and block state regulators from enforcing it, marks an important early legal test of Proposition 64, the 2016 voter-approved law that legalized recreational pot sales for adults in California. Under the law, local governments have the authority to ban non-medical pot businesses.
But when the state Bureau of Cannabis Control adopted the rule in January, it pointed to the business and professions code, which states that local governments "shall not prevent delivery of cannabis or cannabis products on public roads" by a licensed operator.
After California adopted the delivery rule, the League of California Cities and police chiefs complained that unrestricted home deliveries would create an unchecked market of largely hidden pot transactions, while undercutting the local control that Proposition 64 guaranteed.
Some local law enforcement officials also say it's not the crime that it could enable, necessarily, but the burden it places on small police forces.
"What we have seen now is this total and complete usurpation of that authority by the state," said Dixon Police Chief Robert Thompson. "And that completely limits our ability to regulate this, like we do with many other industries."
Thompson added, "So, at midnight, when an officer stops a car that's doing cannabis delivery, how are they going to know that that is, in fact, a legitimate cannabis delivery service and not something that is on the illicit black market."
Marijuana companies and consumers had pushed for home deliveries because vast stretches of the state have banned commercial cannabis activity or not set up rules to allow legal sales, creating what have been called pot "deserts." Residents in those areas were effectively cut off from legal marijuana purchases.
Supporters said the problem was worse for the sick and frail, who would not be able to drive long distances to buy the drug.
"[This lawsuit] would affect our business terribly," said Eric Sklar, CEO of Fumé, a cannabis company with delivery services in the North Bay. "It would really cut off access to people, particularly in our area where it's low density and there are small towns where they're never going to have dispensaries because they're just not big enough. Delivery is the only way those folks get their cannabis without driving 35 to 40 minutes."
Because pot remains illegal on the federal level, it cannot be sent through the U.S. Postal Service. But customers can still get it delivered to their door in California. Under state rules, all cannabis deliveries must be performed by employees of a licensed retailer. Regulators say there are 311 active licenses to deliver pot.
The Bureau of Cannabis Control declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Plaintiffs include Santa Cruz County and the cities of Beverly Hills, Agoura Hills, Angels Camp, Arcadia, Atwater, Ceres, Clovis, Covina, Dixon and Downey, McFarland, Newman, Oakdale, Palmdale, Patterson, Riverbank, Riverside, San Pablo, Sonora, Tehachapi, Temecula, Tracy, Turlock and Vacaville.
Michael R. Blood of the Associated Press contributed to this report.