Pubdate: Wed, 11 Jun 2008
Source: North County Times (Escondido, CA)
Copyright: 2008 North County Times
Author: Edward Sifuentes, Staff Writer
Cited: American Civil Liberties Union
Cited: San Diego County Board of Supervisors
Cited: San Dieguito Alliance for Drug Free Youth
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)


SAN DIEGO -- Attorneys for San Diego and San Bernardino counties 
argued in court Tuesday that the state's voter-approved medical 
marijuana law should be overturned because it conflicts with federal drug laws.

Attorneys for patients, the American Civil Liberties Union and the 
state attorney general's office disagreed, saying the California law 
does not conflict with federal drug laws because patients do not 
intend to use the drug illegally.

The hearing before the 4th District Court of Appeal was part of an 
effort by the San Diego County Board of Supervisors to invalidate the 
law, which gives patients access to medical marijuana. The courtroom 
was packed with media and observers from both sides of the issue.

The county's challenge could have national implications because it 
marks the first time a county has sued to overturn the medical 
marijuana laws that voters have approved in 11 states.

Patients say that marijuana helps them treat chronic pain. Wendy 
Christakes, one of those patients, said she began using medical 
marijuana in 2002, when she fell and broke her backbone.

Thomas Burton, an attorney for the county, said it is impossible to 
reconcile the state's marijuana and federal drug laws. He said 
allowing medical marijuana patients to use the drug inevitably will 
lead to illicit use.

"There are almost no controls," Burton said.

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

Some local anti-drug activists agree with the county's decision to 
fight the law.

Judi Strag, executive director of the San Dieguito Alliance for Drug 
Free Youth, said the medical marijuana law encourages drug use among 
young people.

"We submit that the reason why our teens think marijuana is harmless 
is because there is a myth afoot that marijuana is medicine," Strag 
said after the hearing.

Superior Court Judge William R. Nevitt ruled against the county in 
December 2006. County officials filed their appeal to the state's 
Fourth Appellate District in 2007.

Attorneys said Tuesday the three-judge panel likely would issue a 
ruling in 30 to 90 days.

The county also has declined 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.

William Britt, a Long Beach polio patient who advocates for medical 
marijuana, showed reporters his medical marijuana card issued by Los 
Angeles County. He said after the hearing that the card allows him to 
use marijuana without the fear of being arrested, but not in San Diego County.

Attorneys for the county and anti-drug advocates said the 
identification cards impose a burden on the county and offer no more 
protection from law enforcement than doctor-issued prescriptions for marijuana. 
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