Pubdate: Fri, 28 Dec 2007
Source: San Diego Union Tribune (CA)
Copyright: 2007 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.
Note: Seldom prints LTEs from outside it's circulation area.
Author: Jeff McDonald, Staff Writer
Cited: San Diego County Board of Supervisors
Cited: Americans for Safe Access
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)


City Files Amicus Brief for Medical ID Cards

In the legal tug of war between the county and state over medical 
marijuana, the city of San Diego has sided with Sacramento and voters.

Lawyers from the City Attorney's Office have filed an amicus brief in 
the lawsuit between San Diego County and the state Department of Justice.

County supervisors hope a panel of appellate judges will relieve them 
of their obligation under state law to issue identification cards to 
qualified patients.

The case asks the 4th District Court of Appeal to reverse a ruling 
last year from Superior Court Judge William R. Nevitt Jr., who said 
the county must follow state law and issue the ID cards.

"The city has a compelling interest in ensuring its citizens have the 
benefit of the medical marijuana program," states the amicus brief, 
which was filed last week.

Identification programs assist police and offer comfort and security 
to those who are entitled to use medical marijuana, the nine-page brief says.

To date, 35 of the state's 58 counties have agreed to issue the 
identification cards to medical marijuana patients. The idea is to 
provide a way for police and other law enforcement officers to 
distinguish legitimate patients from recreational drug users.

San Diego County sued the state rather than issue the cards. 
Supervisors said they could not endorse a program that violates 
federal law, even though Nevitt said the state law requires no such thing.

San Bernardino County is a co-plaintiff in the case. Merced County 
had joined the suit, but supervisors there opted out and agreed to 
issue the ID cards.

Marijuana is illegal to use and possess under federal laws, even 
though California and 10 other states have adopted legislation 
permitting medicinal use of the drug.

Patients and their advocates have said for years that marijuana 
relieves chronic symptoms of cancer, AIDS and other diseases.

California voters adopted a legal allowance for the medicinal use of 
marijuana in 1996, with 56 percent in favor. In San Diego County, the 
initiative received 52 percent support.

But implementation of the law has been slow because of the federal 
ban. The initiative did not specify how much cannabis a person could 
grow or possess, or outline how the drug would be acquired or transported.

Follow-up legislation passed in 2003 said qualified patients can 
possess up to 8 ounces of dried marijuana and cultivate up to 12 plants.

Amicus briefs have no official bearing, other than to alert judges of 
third-party interest in a case.

Attorneys defending the state medical marijuana laws welcomed support 
from San Diego, one of the largest cities in the nation to pass 
guidelines spelling out how much marijuana a patient can cultivate.

"San Diego's brief very strongly makes some points that I don't think 
any of the other parties can adequately make, which is how very 
important it is to have these ID cards and the burden it's placing on 
police to not be able to easily distinguish medical marijuana 
patients from recreational users," said Joe Elford of Americans for 
Safe Access, an advocacy group co-defending the case against the state.

"Legally speaking, I can't say (the amicus brief) will help a 
tremendous amount. However, it does demonstrate to the court that 
it's not the entire county of San Diego that's opposed to the medical 
marijuana law."

A spokesman for Mayor Jerry Sanders, who was the city's police chief 
from 1993 to 1999, said Sanders supports medical marijuana for 
legitimate patients and has told San Diego police to respect the state law.

But Aaron Klein, a medical marijuana patient from North Park, said at 
least half of the officers he and other patients encounter do not 
tolerate marijuana possession or use.

"The majority of police officers are not educated about Proposition 
215," Klein said. "They tell people medical marijuana doesn't work, 
that it's a farce."

More than 20,000 patients in San Diego County have no regular access 
to medical marijuana since last year, when law enforcement officials 
cracked down on shops that sold the drug over the counter, Klein said.

"A significant number of those people will be dead before somebody 
does something," Klein said.

Oral arguments in the legal fight between state and county attorneys 
will not likely be heard by appellate judges until summer. A ruling 
is expected later next year. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake