Group Sues State To Stop CHP Pot Confiscations

February 14, 2005

Michelle Locke, Associated Press

Berkeley, Calif. -- Medical marijuana advocates have filed suit against the California Highway Patrol, demanding that officers stop confiscating pot from authorized users.

The suit, filed Tuesday in Alameda County Superior Court, is the latest salvo in the long-running debate over medical marijuana in California, approved by voters in 1996, opposed by federal authorities ever since and applied unevenly all over the state.

The suit, which also names the governor and attorney general, says the highway patrol's 'rigid policy,' of seizing medical marijuana 'causes law abiding citizens to suffer pain, humiliation, loss of dignity, extreme anxiety and a fear of the police.'

'It's been more than eight years since California voters approved the right to use marijuana medically and since that time law enforcement has resisted upholding that right,' said Kris Hermes, legal director of Americans for Safe Access, the Berkeley-based group bringing the suit. 'While this resistance is pretty widespread across California, CHP are the worst violators by far.'

At CHP headquarters in Sacramento, spokesman Tom Marshall said department officials have not seen the suit and therefore had no comment.

As for CHP policy in general, he said, a doctor's note alone isn't enough to prevent confiscation of marijuana. Marshall said the agency is waiting for authorized user ID cards to be issued by the state Health Department.

The voluntary ID card program was authorized by legislators in 2003 but cards haven't been issued yet. Department of Health Services spokeswoman Norma Arceo said the program had been delayed for lack of funds, but officials are developing a pilot program with 10 counties and hope to have the system set up statewide by year's end.

People with a medical recommendation to use marijuana will be able to apply for the ID card and the department will also have a toll-free number and Web site to help officers check to see if a person is an authorized user, she said.

Hermes took issue with the argument that a doctor's recommendation isn't sufficient.

'The law states quite explicitly that a qualified patient is someone who presents a recommendation from their physician or a voluntary identification card,' he said.

The suit also names Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Bill Lockyer. The governor's office referred calls to the CHP and a Lockyer spokesman said he had not seen the suit and had no comment.

The suit seeks a court order stopping the CHP from seizing marijuana from legitimate patients.

'It's like someone being pulled over and getting their Motrin taken away that they use to relieve their pain,' Hermes said.

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