International Municipal Lawyers Association - Local Government Blog

Our First Amendment Hard at Work

September 13, 2010
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Posted By: Dwight Merriam, Robinson & Cole, LLP

I’ve been busy and I have missed doing my occasional blog postings.  Given this dramatic event last week, however, I had to set aside everything else to tell you that on Thursday, September 9th, the Ninth Circuit held that getting a tattoo is protected speech.  Click here for the decision.

 Said the court: “We hold that tattooing is purely expressive activity fully protected by the First Amendment, and that a total ban on such activity is not a reasonable ‘time, place, or manner’ restriction.”

 So, to get your tattoo with no sniveling zoning enforcement officers on your tail – you will soon be able to go to Hermosa Beach, California, and see Johnny Anderson, shown here hard at work at his shop, Yer Cheat’n Heart Tattoo and Body Piercing, in Gardena:

Exercise your First Amendment right to have a little ink shot under your skin.  It’s your expression and his art.  Here’s how Johnny describes it:

The tattoo designs that are applied by me are individual
and unique creative works of visual art,designed by me in collaboration with the person who is to receive the tattoo. The precise design to be used is decided upon after discussion with the client and review of a draft of the design. The choices made by both me and by the recipient involve consideration of color, light, shape, size, placement on the body, literal meaning, symbolic meaning, historical allusion, religious import, and emotional content. I believe my designs are enormously varied and complex, and include realistic depictions of people, animals and objects, stylized depictions of the same things, religious images, fictional images, and geometric shapes and patterns. . . . Sometimes, several kinds of images are combined into a single tattoo or series of tattoos. . . . I have studied the history of tattooing, and I draw significantly on traditional Americana tattoo designs and on Japanese tattoo motifs in creating my images, while all the while trying to add my own creative input to make the designs my own.

NPR reported the comments of City Attorney Michael Jenkins: “We are disappointed by the decision reached by this three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals. The Hermosa Beach City Council places a priority on protecting the public’s health and safety, and it adopted this ordinance because of the potential health hazards caused by unsanitary tattoo practices.”

The court’s slip opinion runs 28 pages, loaded with carefully-articulated First Amendment analysis and graphic descriptions of the tattooing process.  Do you think there wasn’t a bit of a smile among some of those justices and clerks as they etched there own ponderous words onto some hard drive:

Tattooing is a process like writing words down or drawing a picture except that it is performed on a person’s skin. As with putting a pen to paper, the process of tattooing is not intended to “symbolize” anything. Rather, the entire purpose of tattooing is to produce the tattoo, and the tattoo cannot be created without the tattooing process any more than the Declaration of Independence could have been created without a goose quill, foolscap, and ink. Thus, as with writing or painting, the tattooing process is inextricably intertwined with the purely expressive product (the tattoo), and is itself entitled to full First Amendment protection.

 The court concluded:

 In sum, we hold that the tattoo itself, the process of tattooing, and the business of tattooing are forms of pure expression fully protected by the First Amendment. We further hold that the City’s total ban on tattoo parlors in Hermosa Beach is not a reasonable “time, place, or manner” restriction because it is substantially broader than necessary to achieve the City’s significant health and safety interests and because it entirely forecloses a unique and important method of expression. Moreover, no genuine issue of material fact exists with respect to the constitutionality of the regulation. Thus, we hold that  Hermosa Beach Municipal Code § 17.06.070 is facially unconstitutional to the extent that it excludes tattoo parlors, and we reverse the district court’s order granting summary judgment in favor of the City and remand with instructions to grant Anderson’s motion for summary judgment and enjoin the City to include tattoo parlors in its zoning regulations.

So, if you don’t allow tattoo parlors, expect to hear from the entrepreneurs of skin illustration shortly, maybe with the free speech clause inked on the…well, wherever…

As soon as I finished reading the decision, I hopped right down to Johnny’s and one of his assistants, who was pretty excited because he said I was his very first customer, inked this great tattoo (I think his shaking was just first-time nervousness) which I will proudly show at the New Orleans meeting:

Don’t Bogart that Joint My Friend

October 26, 2009
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Posted By: Dwight Merriam, Partner, Robinson & Cole, LLP

Lyrics: Lawrence Wagner
Music: Elliot Ingber

(on the soundtrack of “Easy Rider”)

Don’t bogart that joint my friend
Pass it over to me
Don’t bogart that joint my friend
Pass it over to me

Roll another one
Just like the other one
You’ve been holding on to it
And I sure will like a hit


Roll another one
Just like the other one
That one’s burned to the end
Come on and be a real friend


Marijuana is prescribed for certain medical conditions, such as pain relief, control of nausea and vomiting, and appetite stimulation. Since 1996, at least 13 states have legalized the sale of medical marijuana.

Now, check your zoning regulations and see what districts allow this land use:  “Retail Sales – Medical Marijuana.”  Couldn’t find it, right?

I first saw mention of this issue in Longmont, Colorado. It’s legal there and buyers now don’t have to drive into Boulder to get their meds.  Here’s a local proprietor with product to be prepared for sale.  One of his newest patients has had 14 knee surgeries and needs the pain relief.

Larry Hill — owner of the The Apothecary, 1314 Coffman St. — displays a medical marijuana plant Thursday that he has grown and harvested. Hill said he opened his medical marijuana dispensary in February and has “over 50 patients.” Lewis Geyer/Times-Call

Larry Hill — owner of the The Apothecary, 1314 Coffman St. — displays a medical marijuana plant Thursday that he has grown and harvested. Hill said he opened his medical marijuana dispensary in February and has “over 50 patients.” Lewis Geyer/Times-Call

When I started searching for other communities facing the issue of local zoning for medical marijuana sales, it was obvious there is a widespread debate.  Interestingly, Colorado and California, two of the 13 states allowing the sale, have most of the news stories.  Do you suppose their residents in those two states have special needs for pain relief, control of nausea and vomiting, and appetite stimulation?

Aspen, Colorado allows sale anywhere an office is permitted, says the city’s planning director.    

It’s being debated in Brush, Colorado, where there has been discussion (click here and here) about distancing requirements which would put the dispensaries on the same footing as liquor stores and sexually oriented business, hardly the medical treatment model. 

San Diego, California, has created a task force on the subject, but police are reportedly raiding dispensaries, guns drawn, bursting in using battering rams.

Charles Ziegenfelder, owner of PB 420 Cheech & Chong Headquarters, poses for a portrait just minutes before being informed that raids are being conducted at dispensaries in the area. Photo: Sam Hodgson. Courtesy

Charles Ziegenfelder, owner of PB 420 Cheech & Chong Headquarters, poses for a portrait just minutes before being informed that raids are being conducted at dispensaries in the area. Photo: Sam Hodgson. Courtesy

And, yes, there is even case law on the subject, from California, of course, where the Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District held that Claremont did not have to zone for the use and that the city could declare the dispensing to be a nuisance, at least where it appears the use is not permitted.  Go here for the actual decision.

For a good model zoning ordinance on “Medical Marijuana Dispensaries”, where else better to go than Berkeley, California?

Local Governments, Cell Phones, and Health

October 13, 2009
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Posted By: Joseph Van Eaton, Matthew Schettenhelm and James Hobson

Do cell phones cause brain tumors or other health risks? At a September 14, 2009 hearing before a subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations, leading researchers testified that more research is needed before we definitively have an answer. This renewed attention to the health risks associated with cell phones and towers may mean that local governments, which regulate cell tower siting, may face an increasing number of questions from concerned citizens about the risks of radiofrequency emissions. Local government attorneys should be aware of both the limits upon their authority and the opportunities for local action in this area.

The Health Issues

The evidence of a link between cell phones and adverse health effects has been described as contradictory. Unlike x-rays or other forms of radiation that have been shown to cause harm, cell phones operate in frequencies that produce non-ionizing radiation, which does not independently mutate cells. As a result, many have argued that cell phones do not pose a health risk, and that the current evidence of a link between cellphones and cancer is weak or nonexistent. CTIA, the cell phone trade association, maintains that the “scientific evidence to date does not demonstrate any adverse health effects associated with the use of wireless phones.” This is consistent with the current views of the American Cancer Society, the FCC, and the FDA.

Others cite contrary findings, however, which do suggest reason for concern. For example, researchers have found that people who use cell phones for more than 10 years are more likely to get tumors on the side of the head on which they usually hold their phone; that exposure to such frequencies causes the blood brain barrier to be breached; and that DNA in rats is damaged by exposure to very low levels of cellular radiation. Some also contend that, just as early data failed to show a link between cancer and other harmful radiation, it may be too early to see a definitive link between cell phones and health risks. While these findings and views are now subject to vigorous debate, most do agree that additional research is needed with respect to long-term exposure and the effects on children, who appear to be more susceptible to potential harms. Thus, the placement of wireless antennas at or near schools, and the increasing use by young people of cell phones or other sources of non-ionizing radiation, has come under particular scrutiny by citizens and their elected officials. Several local government actions are noted below.

FCC Regulation

 Acting through the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”), the FCC currently regulates non-ionizing radiation from broadcast, cellphone, and other wireless transmitters, including cell phone towers, pursuant to 47 C.F.R. § 1.1310 and 47 C.F.R. § 1.1310. The FCC also regulates the Specific Absorption Rate (“SAR”) for individual cell phones. The SAR is a measure of the rate at which energy is absorbed by the body when exposed to a radio frequency electromagnetic field pursuant to 47 C.F.R. § 2.1093.

The FCC’s current rules for cell phones date from 1996, and are founded on scientific knowledge of the 1980s and 1990s. The rules are based on avoiding “thermal” harm – that is, overheating of the human body by direct exposure to radiation from antennas or from a wireless receiver itself, such as a cell phone. Under the current standard, before any cell phone is released on the market, it is tested to confirm that its maximum SAR level does not exceed 1.6 W/kg.

In 2003, the EMR Network urged the FCC to reconsider its antenna radiation and SAR standards, arguing that it is dated and fails to consider the potential health risks of non-thermal effects or long-term exposure. The FCC refused to revisit the issue. The FCC maintained that in adopting its regulation, the agency has relied on both standards produced by IEEE and ANSI, and on agencies such as the EPA and the FDA that have primary expertise and responsibility for ensuring health and safety. The FCC said it would reconsider its regulation in the event such agencies or other expert sources found reason for concern.

Local Government Role

With respect to cell tower siting, local governments can only consider the potential health effects of radiofrequency emissions within the limits of the Communications Act. Section 332(c)(7)(B)(iv) of the Communications Act provides that no local government may regulate siting based on the effects of radiofrequency emissions if the facility complies with the FCC’s regulations on the issue. Accordingly, local governments that deny a siting request based on health concerns beyond the FCC ‘s regulations may find their decisions overturned by the courts.

However, while local government’s role in regulating radiofrequency emissions is limited, local entities can bring pressure to bear on Congress and on the FCC to address the health concerns. Some local entities – including Los Angeles County, California; the Los Angeles City School District; Glendale, California; Sebastopol, California; and Pima County, Arizona – have responded to local concerns by calling on Congress to revise Section 332(c)(7)(B)(iv) to allow local jurisdictions to more broadly consider the health effects of cell tower placement in their community. In May 2009, the City of Portland adopted a resolution calling for the FCC to work with the FDA and other relevant federal agencies to revisit and update studies on potential health concerns arising from RF wireless emissions.

Local governments can also educate citizens in this area. Those concerned about the potential adverse effects of cell phones often cite the precautionary principle. They maintain that even if we lack scientific proof of a link between cell phones and adverse health effects, we should take low-cost measures in order to avoid even the possibility of very costly future outcomes. Local governments officials can encourage such low-cost measures. They can urge cell phone users to take very basic steps, such as using a head-set or speaker, that will greatly reduce any potential risk. Local governments can also encourage users to check the SAR level of their cell phone at a site provided by the Environmental Working Group, or by inserting their cellphone’s FCC ID # at the FCC’s webpage.


Local counsel for communities should recognize:

  • This is a hot issue, and it may become hotter.
  • Citizens may want to raise the issue in hearings on particular applications to site cell phone towers. But beyond ensuring compliance with FCC rules, local governments should not allow radio frequency and health issues to become, or even to appear to become, the driving force behind zoning decisions. There are often legitimate reasons for denying a request for permission to construct a cell tower, and decision-makers must focus on those grounds, or risk having a decision overturned.
  • A local government can respond to community concerns without putting its zoning decisions at risk. Local governments can both urge Congress to grant it further authority in this area, and call upon the FCC and other agencies to revisit regulations with respect to cell phones radiation.

About author

This blog is made possible by the International Municipal Lawyers Association (IMLA), but may include guest bloggers (who are attorneys with experience in local government matters) who might or might not work for IMLA. Their views (and those expressed on this site) do not necessarily express the views of IMLA.