Pubdate: Tue, 19 May 2009
Source: San Diego Union Tribune (CA)
Page: A1, Front Page
Copyright: 2009 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.
Note: Seldom prints LTEs from outside it's circulation area.
Author: Greg Moran, Union-Tribune Staff Writer
Note: The ACLU's opposition brief to the Court
Note: The Americans for Safe Access page on the case
Cited: San Diego County Board of Supervisors
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)


Out of Appeals, County Plans to Issue ID Cards

The U.S. Supreme Court ended San Diego County's three-year legal 
battle against California's medical marijuana law yesterday by 
declining to hear the county's last appeal.

The move effectively means the county will soon begin issuing 
identification cards for medical marijuana users who want them. That 
is required under a state law passed in 2004 that San Diego and San 
Bernardino counties have resisted.

At its June 16 meeting, the five-member Board of Supervisors will 
consider a recommendation to issue the cards, said Senior Deputy 
County Counsel Thomas Bunton, who led the legal battle that one 
opponent yesterday called "quixotic."

Supervisors indicated in statements yesterday that, with the court 
case concluded, they will approve issuing the cards.

The case is officially over," Supervisor Pam Slater-Price said. "It 
is incumbent on us now to proceed with issuing medical marijuana ID 
cards, after we hear from our staff on appropriate guidelines."

Medical marijuana activists reacted yesterday by essentially saying 
that it's about time.

I think this makes it clear local officials have to abide by 
California's medical marijuana laws," said Joseph Elford, a lawyer 
for Americans for Safe Access that advocates medical marijuana use.

We're glad they are going to comply with the law," said David 
Blair-Loy, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of 
San Diego & Imperial Counties. "We think actually the law has been 
clear from the beginning. And every court that has considered the 
issue agrees with us."

The end of the case came quietly, with the justices declining to 
review the appeal without comment or explanation. That is not 
uncommon for the high court.

The county had sued the state in 2006, contending the state law 
requiring counties to issue identification cards to people who have a 
doctor's prescription to use marijuana violated federal laws that 
categorize marijuana as a dangerous drug.

Federal law does not recognize medical benefits of marijuana. 
Thirteen states have passed laws allowing patients with chronic pain 
or other ailments to use the drug for treatment.

The county argued that in the conflict between state and federal law, 
the federal law trumped the state. That argument is based on the U.S. 
Constitution's supremacy clause, which says it is the supreme law of the land.

The argument found no traction in the state courts. In 2006, San 
Diego Superior Court Judge William Nevitt ruled against the county, 
and in August 2008, the state 4th District Court of Appeal upheld that ruling.

The appeals court said the identification card requirement does not 
conflict with the federal law, known as the Controlled Substances 
Act. The court said the purpose of that law "is to combat 
recreational drug use, not regulate a state's medical practice."

The California Supreme Court refused to take the county's appeal of 
that ruling. In a last-ditch effort, the county appealed to the U.S. 
Supreme Court.

Some supervisors said they had hoped the court would clarify the 
long-running conflict in the debate between state law and federal law.

"I am disappointed the court did not take our case, but I am 
respectful of the court's decision," said Supervisor Dianne Jacob, 
who along with Slater-Price and Supervisor Bill Horn voted in 2005 
not to issue the cards.

We were seeking a definitive ruling, in writing, that would resolve 
the conflict between state and federal law. In my opinion, there 
remains a gray area that will continue to pose challenges for law 
enforcement and users."

Supervisor Greg Cox said he, too, would have preferred a ruling by 
the court but said in a statement "the county will certainly abide by 
the decision of the courts that have ruled."

Horn also said the county will follow court rulings.

It's still an issue I wish they would have heard," he said.

Graham Boyd, director of a national drug litigation project for the 
ACLU, said the case had little chance from the start.

It was a rather quixotic battle, and was a legal theory no one 
thought had much merit," Boyd said.

Yesterday's action by the court laid to rest the contention that 
states could not enact their own medical marijuana laws because of 
the clash with federal laws, Boyd said.

The law says the identification cards are to be issued by the county 
health department or another health-related entity designated by the 
supervisors. Bunton said he did not know how soon those cards would 
be issued if the board approves issuing them June 16.

Most counties in the state issue such cards, but Elford of the Safe 
Access group said about 10 counties, including San Diego, have 
resisted. Elford said he now expects San Diego and San Bernardino and 
the other eight counties to implement the law.

Merced County initially joined San Diego and San Bernardino in the 
suit but dropped out after the case began. Since then, that county 
has begun to issue identification cards, Elford said.



Background: San Diego County sued the state of California in 2006 to 
challenge a law that requires counties to issue identification cards 
to qualified medical marijuana users.

What's changing: The U.S. Supreme Court declined yesterday to review the case.

The future: At a meeting next month, the county Board of Supervisors 
will consider a recommendation to issue the cards. Supervisors 
indicated yesterday they will approve the recommendation.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake