Pubdate: Tue, 19 May 2009
Source: Press-Enterprise (Riverside, CA)
Copyright: 2009 The Press-Enterprise Company
Author: Darrell R. Santschi, The Press-Enterprise
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


San Bernardino County residents previously unable to lawfully purchase
marijuana for medicinal uses should soon be able to do so after the
U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear challenges to the
state's medical marijuana law.

"The Supreme Court is the end of the road," said Allen Hopper,
litigation director for the American Civil Liberties Union's Drug Law
Reform Project. "There is no additional legal challenge left for the

San Bernardino and San Diego counties had sued in San Diego County
Superior Court three years ago contending that federal drug law trumps
California law, therefore making the possession of marijuana in this
state -- for medical or any other use -- illegal.

By refusing to hear the case, the court upheld lower-court rulings
that rejected the counties' arguments.

Supporters say marijuana helps chronically ill patients relieve pain.
Critics say the drug has no medical benefit and all use should be illegal.

California voters in 1996 decriminalized using marijuana for medicinal
purposes, and the state Legislature passed a law seven years later
spelling out regulations governing its use, including a requirement
that counties issue ID cards to patients who have letters from their
doctors confirming the medical need.

Riverside County has been issuing the cards ever since, county
spokesman Ray Smith said by phone Monday.

Victoria Jauregui Burns, chief of the Riverside County Public Health
Department's HIV program, said San Bernardino County residents cannot
cross county lines to obtain ID cards because they must show proof of
residence to obtain them.

Riverside County residents must also have a letter from a physician
and pay a $153-a-year fee.

The county has averaged 350 applicants a year for the past three
years, she said, but the volume of applicants has surged in recent
months. Some 200 people have applied for the cards in the past three

Supervisors in San Bernardino and San Diego, and as many as seven
other California counties that have been waiting for the Supreme Court
to weigh in, will now consider issuing the ID cards.

San Bernardino County will not issue the cards at least until
supervisors are briefed by their attorneys on June 2, county spokesman
David Wert said.

The ACLU's Hopper said county supervisors need to understand the
meaning of the decision, "so I have no problem with them taking a
little bit of time for their lawyers to explain what the legal effect
of the decision is."

On the other hand, he said, "It's not rocket science. The Supreme
Court said that what the Court of Appeals did stands. The Court of
Appeals threw out the counties' challenge."

Scott Bledsoe, of Crestline in the San Bernardino Mountains, said he
doesn't trust the county to quickly begin issuing ID cards. He said he
will lead as many as 50 medical marijuana proponents in a
demonstration at today's supervisors meeting in San Bernardino to
press for immediate action.

Bledsoe sued the county in January when it refused to issue him a
medical marijuana ID, and he says Monday's Supreme Court decision
"bolsters my suit.

"We were expecting, or hoping, that the Supreme Court would deny
review of San Bernardino's case," Bledsoe said by phone. "We also
assumed that they were going to continue obstructing, even after a
ruling like that came down. I filed suit so we could get something

Fast Action sought

Aaron Smith, California policy director for the national Marijuana
Policy Project, called on the two counties to act immediately.

"It's time for San Diego and San Bernardino counties to end their war
on the sick and obey the law," Smith said in a news release Monday.

Tom Bunton, a senior deputy county counsel in San Diego County who
argued the case on behalf of both counties, said he was disappointed
with the Supreme Court decision, but that "I think it does" mean the
end of the battle against California's medical marijuana law.

He said he will recommend that San Diego County supervisors begin
issuing identification cards.

Hopper said the Supreme Court decision -- while unexplained by the
court itself -- "really comes down to the sovereign right that the
state has to decide for itself what its criminal laws are going to
penalize or not penalize."

He said he is counting on the Obama administration to continue its
hands-off policy on medical marijuana dispensaries in California, a
sharp reversal from the Bush administration. 
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