Medical Marijuana: California County Drops Federal Lawsuit, Will Seek to Overturn Compassionate Use Act in State Court 2/10/06

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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.

demonstration honoring Steve McWilliams, San Diego medical
marijuana provider who took his own life while facing federal prosecution
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."

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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Issue #422 -- 2/10/06

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Editorial: I Was Almost on TV Last Week | Feature: Federal Drug Budget Continues Modest Downward Trend, but Strategy Promises Same Old Same Old | Feature: States, Colleges Block Financial Aid to Students with Drug Convictions Even When They Don't Have To, DRCNet-sponsored Study Finds | Feature: With Australia in the Grip of Reefer Madness, New South Wales Moves to Severely Punish the Dreaded "Hydro" | Europe: Italy Takes a Giant Step Backward | Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories | Medical Marijuana: California County Drops Federal Lawsuit, Will Seek to Overturn Compassionate Use Act in State Court | Harm Reduction: Pediatricians Back Needle Exchange Programs | Chronic Pain: Florida Pain Patient Appeals Drug Trafficking Sentence Amidst Media Glare | In Memoriam: Al Lewis Dead at 82 -- Best Known as "Grandpa Munster," Actor Was Also Activist and Drug Law Reformer | Web Scan: New LEAP Video, Reason on Bush's Drug Warriors, Afghan Farmers in London, Conservatives Attacked Over Soros Link, Humanists Resolution | Weekly: This Week in History | Weekly: The Reformer's Calendar

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