San Diego County has quietly
dropped its federal lawsuit seeking to overturn California's medical marijuana
law, but has re-filed it in state court. The federal lawsuit was
filed January 20 and sought to challenge the validity of the state law,
arguing that federal drug laws preempt state medical marijuana laws.
The county dropped the federal lawsuit February 1 and refiled it in state
court the same day.
The lawsuit drew quick opposition
from patients, activists, and their legal support teams. The American
Civil Liberties Union's Drug
Law Reform Project, Americans
for Safe Access (ASA), and the Drug
Policy Alliance intervened in the case two weeks ago to ensure that
patients' rights are protected. The ACLU Drug Law Reform Project's
Allen Hopper told the North County Times the county's move to drop the
federal lawsuit was easily explained. "I think the real reason is
pretty clear," Hopper explained. "They recognized there was absolutely
no way they were going to be found to have standing in federal court.
I think they realized that they might as well drop their suit than suffer
the embarrassment of having it thrown out."
|demonstration honoring Steve McWilliams, San Diego medical
marijuana provider who took his own life while facing federal prosecution
But San Diego County Counsel
John Sansone denied that. "We believe we would have prevailed on
that 'standing' issue," Sansone told the suburban newspaper. "But,
for a whole lot of other issues relating to legal strategy, we think this
case is best suited to the state courts."
One reason Sansone gave for
going through the state court system was to avoid review by the 9th US
Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, which has proven open to medical
marijuana arguments. "This could still take us to the US Supreme
Court," Sansone said, "and if it avoids the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals,
so be it," he added.
The county's lawsuit, which
seeks to overturn both the 1996 referendum that legalized medical marijuana
in California and the 2004 law mandating that counties implement patient
registration and ID programs, is the first in the nation to seek to overturn
a medical marijuana law.
In its latest version of
the lawsuit, the county has gone the extra step of preemptively suing the
San Diego chapter of the National
Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. San Diego NORML
had threatened to sue the county over its refusal to issue ID cards to
patients, and Sansone claimed naming NORML would merely consolidate the
legal cases. "That didn't make much sense to us, to fight this battle
in two courts," he said. "This way everyone who is wanting to litigate
this is in one place."
Whatever happens in court,
the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, who have opposed medical marijuana
from the beginning and who voted 4-0 in December to try to overturn the
law rather than implement it, still faces an effort from angry voters to
punish it. Local activists working with the Marijuana
Policy Project (MPP) announced late last month they would go forward
with an a term limits initiative that would effectively remove the current
board at the next election.
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