Pubdate: Thu, 22 Dec 2005
Source: Los Angeles City Beat (CA)
Copyright: 2005 Southland Publishing
Author: Kelly Davis
Cited: San Diego County Board of Supervisors
Cited: California NORML
Cited: Gonzales v. Raich
Cited: Americans for Safe Access
Cited: Marijuana Policy Project
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


San Diego County Goes on the Warpath Against Popular Medical Marijuana.

In an all-out assault on patients who use state-legalized medical 
marijuana, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted on 
Tuesday, December 6, to challenge Proposition 215, the 1996 
Compassionate Use Act. Only days later, the U.S. Drug Enforcement 
Agency methodically raided every medi-pot dispensary in the county.

The supervisors have an historic antipathy to the dispensaries, 
having gone on record in November that they would fight SB 420, the 
2004 state Senate bill that ordered counties to provide ID cards to 
medical-marijuana patients. Now they intend to challenge the legality 
of the Compassionate Use Act, a voter-approved initiative that says 
chronically ill people with a doctor's recommendation can use 
marijuana for medicinal purposes. Prop. 215 won by a 12-point margin 
statewide and even garnered majority support in traditionally 
conservative San Diego County.

County Counsel John Sansone said his office expects to file the 
lawsuit in federal court sometime after the first of the year. The 
lawsuit, he said, will argue that the Controlled Substances Act, the 
federal law passed by congress in 1970 that classified marijuana as a 
Schedule I drug - in the same category as PCP, LSD, and heroin - 
supercedes any state law that legalizes marijuana for medical use. 
Schedule I drugs are considered to have no medical value.

"The question is whether or not [Prop. 215] is written in such a way 
that it conflicts with federal law," Sansone said. "Our argument is 
going to be that we believe they conflict to the point of crossing the line."

Sansone said he advised the supervisors on the pros and cons of 
filing such a lawsuit but wouldn't comment further, citing 
attorney-client privilege. He said that from the beginning, when the 
supervisors were only going to challenge SB 420, he'd told them it 
would be an "uphill battle."

"But we've had difficult uphill battles before and won them," Sansone 
said, adding that his own staff would handle the case. "Taxpayers 
aren't going to pay any more or any less for the attorney staff time."

A spokesperson for the state attorney general's office, which would 
be defending the law, declined to comment on the case until she saw 
the actual complaint. Attorney General Bill Lockyer, however, has 
supported Prop. 215 in the past, arguing that the Controlled 
Substances Act is an antiquated law, passed before "the ravages of AIDS."

"States are in, by far, the best position to determine whether and 
under what circumstances the use of cannabis by seriously ill 
patients should be permitted," Lockyer wrote in a 2003 legal brief.

Proposition 215, however, has always been on shaky ground. Poorly 
defined from its inception and passed on Dan Lungren's watch he 
former state attorney general who vehemently opposed the ballot 
measure - medical-marijuana supporters and patients have looked to 
state and local officials to give the law some structure: How much 
marijuana can an individual possess? How is law enforcement to handle 
a person possessing or growing marijuana for medical use? And, more 
importantly, how are people with a doctor's recommendations supposed 
to get marijuana when its sale and purchase remains illegal under 
state law? Cannabis dispensaries are regularly subjected to raids, 
evident in the December 12 afternoon raids of 13 San Diego County 
dispensaries by a swarm of federal Drug Enforcement Administration 
agents with the aid of local law enforcement (see accompanying story).

But despite his disdain for the bill, Lungren never sought to 
overturn it. Dale Gieringer, who heads California NORML (National 
Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws), said that when Prop. 215 
passed, Lungren consulted with federal officials and ultimately 
decided not to challenge the law. "Lungren declared that 215 was 
constitutional, since states have a right to decide which laws to 
enforce," Gieringer said. He added that a subsequent challenge 
targeting doctors who recommended marijuana to patients (Conant v. 
Walters) was struck down in federal court in 2002. In 2003, Angel 
Raich and Diane Monson sued the federal government to block DEA 
agents from seizing marijuana from qualified patients. In June, the 
U.S. Supreme Court upheld the federal government's right to do so, 
but, said Randy Barnett, a Boston University law professor who was on 
Raich and Monson's legal team, the ruling in no way affected 
California's medical-marijuana laws.

The county supervisors' pending lawsuit will be the first that seeks 
to kill the Compassionate Use Act wholesale, said Hilary McQuie, 
spokesperson for American for Safe Access, a national organization 
that seeks to protect patients' rights to use marijuana for medicinal purposes.

Despite the Bush administration's opposition to state 
medical-marijuana laws (10 states currently have such laws), Glenn 
Smith, a professor at San Diego's California Western School of Law, 
said a challenge to a state law must come from within the state. "The 
federal government can't bring a lawsuit to stop an unconstitutional 
state law. It has to be somebody who is affected by that law and 
injured by it."

Smith said the latter point can't be a theoretical one - the 
supervisors will have to prove someone is, in fact, negatively 
affected by the law. They could argue, he said, that "they're being 
required to spend money by this state law in a way that is a waste to 
taxpayers' money."

Supervisor Bill Horn, easily the board's most vocal critic of medical 
marijuana, has said that any support for Prop. 215 or SB 420 would 
send the wrong message, especially to kids. He went so far as to 
compare the supervisors' stand against medical-marijuana laws to Rosa 
Parks' stand against segregation laws. In June, however, the county 
grand jury slammed the supervisors for failing to implement SB 420, 
saying the board had been "blinded by its prejudices against medical 

"These people are not in the times; they're living in the Reefer 
Madness days," said Mark Bluemel, a San Diego attorney who's worked 
on medical-marijuana cases, including that of Steve McWilliams. 
McWilliams, perhaps San Diego's most outspoken proponent of medical 
marijuana, committed suicide in July after a federal judge, under 
terms of McWilliams' bail, denied him the ability to use marijuana. 
McWilliams was severely injured in a 1992 motorcycle accident that 
left him with chronic migraines and neck pain. He was arrested by DEA 
agents in 2002 and charged with growing 25 marijuana plants in his 
backyard, some of which belonged to his partner, Barbara MacKenzie, 
who suffers from degenerative spinal disorder.

Marijuana Policy Project spokesperson Bruce Mirken said that even 
though the Raich ruling said state medical-marijuana laws don't offer 
protection from federal prosecution, "that's a very different thing 
from saying states are obligated to enforce federal medical-marijuana laws.

"So far as we can tell, the county is whistling in the dark," Mirken 
said of the challenge to Prop. 215. "But I think the bigger question 
is why the county supervisors think that they should defy the will of 
their own voters?

"We have cases that date back to the fugitive slave law, back to the 
pre-Civil War days in which there were disputes over whether states 
. had to carry out federal statutes, and it's always been very clear 
that they don't. State and local laws can go in opposite directions."

Barnett, the Boston law professor, called the supervisors' argument 

"No federal court would sustain it," he said, "and I would ask for 
sanctions against anyone who raised it." 
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