Pubdate: Mon, 12 Mar 2007
Source: North County Times (Escondido, CA)
Copyright: 2007 North County Times
Author: Gig Conaughton, Staff Writer
Note: Gives LTE priority to North San Diego County and Southwest 
Riverside County residents


SAN DIEGO ---- San Diego County officials said last week that they 
have filed an appeal to continue their efforts to overturn 
California's voter-approved medical marijuana law ---- but judges 
could take months, a year, or longer to issue a ruling.

Meanwhile, medical marijuana advocacy groups and patients offered a 
variety of opinions on what effect the county's continuing challenge 
was having locally and statewide.

Some said they thought this county's appeal was making it easier for 
other counties to ignore state legislation ordering them to create 
medical marijuana identification cards and registry systems.

But they also said they thought that the county's challenge was 
having less of an effect than it had before a Superior Court judge in 
December rejected the challenge, upholding the law that allows 
seriously ill people to use marijuana with a doctor's recommendation 
to ease their pain.

However, a San Diego County medical marijuana patient, Wendy 
Christakes, said the county's continuing challenge, and crackdown on 
medical marijuana "dispensaries," was still generating local fallout.

Christakes is a 29-year-old mother who has used marijuana since 2003 
to treat chronic pain from herniated discs and removal of a portion 
of her backbone. She said local patients have been trying without 
success to get San Diego city leaders to allow dispensaries where 
patients can buy the drug.

Christakes said she was convinced that the county's challenge was 
giving City Council members "an excuse to basically keep us on the 
back burner."

Court rejection

San Diego County supervisors angered local medical marijuana patients 
and state and national medical marijuana advocacy groups in December 
2005 when they said they would sue to overturn Proposition 215 ---- 
the medical marijuana law that state voters passed with 56 percent of 
the vote in 1996.

Supervisors said Prop. 215 is "bad law" and could increase drug 
abuse. The county argued that Prop. 215 should be pre-empted by 
federal law that says marijuana has no medicinal benefits and that 
all use was illegal.

The federal government also states that synthetically created 
tetrahydrocannibinol, the active ingredient in marijuana, has 
medicinal value and can be prescribed by doctors.

The county's challenge has national implications, patients and 
government officials say, because it marks the first time that any 
county has sued to overturn any of the medical marijuana laws that 
voters have approved in 11 states.

Superior Court Judge William R. Nevitt ruled against the county in December.

But county officials filed a notice of appeal to the state's Fourth 
Appellate District last month.

Officials said they don't know how long the appeal process will take. 
Some have speculated six to 12 months, other legal experts say 
appeals can take up to 18 months.

In the meantime, officials from some of the medical marijuana 
advocacy groups that have been watching said the county's continuing 
challenge could be giving other counties in the state a reason not to 
implement Senate Bill 420 ---- the medical marijuana identification 
card and registry law.

Prop. 215 urged the state and federal government to work out a way to 
dispense medical marijuana to patients, but didn't fill out the 
details. In 2003, state legislators punted the issue over to local 
governments with SB 420, directing counties to create identification 
cards that would make it easier for law enforcement officers to 
identify patients.

Officials from the Marijuana Policy Project said last week that only 
about half of California's 58 counties have implemented the 
identification card program.

Chris Hermes of Americans for Safe Access, a group that wants to get 
the federal government to change its marijuana laws, said some of 
those counties had delayed action because the state recently 
threatened to greatly increase the proposed cost of the cards.

But Hermes said he also thought the county's challenge was playing a 
part in some counties' delay.

"One of the ramifications of what San Diego is doing by suing the 
state is to give political cover to other counties not to implement 
the (identification card) program," he said.

San Diego County Supervisor Bill Horn, who pushed hard for the county 
to sue to overturn Prop. 215, agreed Friday.

"I think they're right," Horn said. "The fact that we're suing has 
made it easier for other counties to say no."

Dispensary crackdown

Christakes, meanwhile, said one outcome of the county's continuing 
challenge has been the squeeze on medical marijuana dispensaries.

In the wake of the county's decision to sue to overturn Prop. 215, it 
appeared that the county district attorney's office and Sheriff's 
Department became more aggressive in their posture toward the medical 
marijuana issue as well.

In July 2006 ---- even though California Attorney General Bill 
Lockyer said local police were not obligated to help enforce federal 
laws that say all marijuana use is illegal ---- representatives of 
the San Diego County district attorney's office and sheriff's 
deputies joined raids on several dispensaries and arrested 10 people.

Deputy District Attorney Damon Mosler, the county's top drug 
prosecutor, said this week that all local dispensaries had been shut down.

Mosler said undercover police officers ---- who were not medical 
marijuana patients ---- were able to buy drugs at all of those 
dispensaries. However, Mosler also said that the county's belief is 
that the dispensaries are illegal even if they properly sell 
marijuana to patients.

Hermes said that surveys suggest that the majority of medical 
marijuana patients statewide rely upon dispensaries because they 
would rather not, or can not, grow marijuana on their own.

Christakes said she won't grow her own marijuana because she has 
small children at home. She said she also fears raids by federal drug agents.

Christakes said that it has been more difficult for her to get 
marijuana since the county crackdown, even though California voters 
have said seriously ill people should be able to get it.

She said she has had to go to the hospital more often to get morphine 
and Demerol drips to relieve her pain, but that she has tried not to 
use prescription medicines that she believes are more harmful than marijuana.

Christakes is angry that the county has continued its challenge.

"I just really think that it's just a waste of taxpayer money," she 
said. "They're deciding to interpret the law, instead of following 
the laws that voters and citizens approved."
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