HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html County Files Suit to Overturn California Medical
Pubdate: Sat, 21 Jan 2006
Source: North County Times (Escondido, CA)
Copyright: 2006 North County Times
Author: Gig Conaughton, Staff Writer
Cited: The San Diego County Board of Supervisors filing
Cited: San Diego County Board of Supervisors
Cited: Marijuana Policy Project
Cited: California NORML
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


SAN DIEGO - County officials formally filed a precedent-setting 
lawsuit in U.S. District Court on Friday that could overturn 
California's 9-year-old medical marijuana law - a suit that has 
angered marijuana advocates here and around the state.

The seven-page lawsuit argues that California's 1996 voter-approved 
"Compassionate Use Act" - Proposition 215 - should be pre-empted by 
federal law, which says all marijuana use is illegal and that the 
drug has no medicinal value.

County officials and marijuana advocacy groups said the lawsuit was 
the first that would try to overturn any of the medical marijuana 
laws that voters have approved in 11 states.

John Sansone, the county's top lawyer, said there was no word on when 
the courts might begin listening to arguments in the lawsuit. Sansone 
and others expect the suit to make its way eventually to the U.S. 
Supreme Court.

San Diego County supervisors - all of whom were on the board when 
Prop. 215 was approved in 1996 - have always opposed the measure, and 
have often called it a "bad law" that could lead to drug abuse.

They decided to challenge the law in December, a month after the 
state ordered counties to create identification cards and a 
registration program to support Prop. 215.

Prop. 215 states that "seriously ill" people have a right to "obtain 
and use marijuana for medical purposes" when recommended by a doctor.

Despite their general opposition to the law - which was passed by 55 
percent of state voters in 1996 and registered a 74 percent support 
level statewide in a 2004 Field Poll - the San Diego supervisors have 
repeatedly said they only want to settle the contradiction between 
Prop. 215 and federal law.

"We opposed Prop. 215 when it came up; that isn't the point," Bill 
Horn, the board's chairman, said this week. "The issue is, the 
state's asking the county to do something here that they know darn 
well is illegal ... don't ask us to break federal law."

However, the lawsuit the county filed Friday in San Diego asks the 
courts to ban the state from enforcing Prop. 215, essentially erasing it.

Local patients who use marijuana to ease pain and national marijuana 
advocacy groups have blasted the board. Several speakers, including 
Rudy Reyes, a burn victim of the 2003 Cedar fire who uses marijuana 
for pain management, asked supervisors to reconsider filing the 
lawsuit in recent board meetings.

On Wednesday, Reyes and other angry medical marijuana advocates, with 
the backing of the Marijuana Policy Project - a national group that 
would like to see marijuana regulated on a par with alcohol - filed 
letters of intent seeking to impose two-year term limits on 
supervisors, saying they had "lost touch with constituents."

On Friday, Dale Gieringer, director of the California chapter of the 
National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, also 
criticized the supervisors.

"It's probably the first time that anyone has found a board so 
ignorant of constitutional law that they'd waste taxpayer money on a 
challenge," Gieringer said. "I think the county counsel knows that 
it's a waste of taxpayer money, ordered by a very ignorant board of 
supervisors that is clearly in over its head."

But Sansone, who initially told supervisors that he thought any 
challenge of Prop. 215 would be a "difficult, uphill battle," said 
Friday that he believes the county has a good argument.

The lawsuit's basic contention is that federal law, which outlaws all 
marijuana use, should pre-empt California's law.

The suit cites Article VI of the U.S Constitution - the "Supremacy 
Clause" - which states that the constitution and federal laws "shall 
be the supreme law of the land" over state laws.

However, in addition, the suit cites a 1961 international treaty that 
the United States signed with 150 other countries - the "Single 
Convention on Narcotic Drugs" - that also specifically outlawed marijuana use.

Sansone said Prop. 215 not only stands in contradiction to federal 
law, but violates the 1961 international treaty signed by the United States.

"Can you imagine what it would be like if each state got to decide to 
things in violation of international treaties?" Sansone asked. "I 
think this is an issue that is going to grab the attention of a lot of people."

Anthony Green is a lawyer and vice president of the National 
Constitution Center in Philadelphia, a nonprofit organization 
dedicated to "increasing public understanding of, and appreciation 
for, the constitution, its history and relevance."

Green said the issue at the heart of the county's lawsuit is 
federalism, which has been a major debate rumbling in the Supreme 
Court for decades: "Who has the powers? The state or federal governments?"

Supreme Court justices ruled on a medical marijuana issue last year. 
In a June 2005 decision, the justices ruled 6-3 that medical 
marijuana users in California and the other 10 states that have 
medical marijuana laws could still be arrested and prosecuted by 
federal law enforcement agents.

In fact, federal agents raided 13 San Diego-area marijuana 
dispensaries Dec. 12, including two in North County. They seized 
large quantities of the drug, computers and records in one of the 
largest crackdowns of its kind in the state. Federal officials said 
the dispensaries were "fronts" for distributing the drug. Marijuana 
advocates attacked the raids as "cowardly."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake