Medical marijuana activist loses round in court

May 04, 2005

Jeff MacDonald, San Diego Union Tribune

A state appeals court has upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit brought by medical marijuana activist Steven McWilliams against the city of San Diego.

McWilliams sued San Diego after federal drug agents raided his Normal Heights home in 2002 and destroyed a marijuana garden in his front yard. City police officers served on the task force that conducted the raid.

com/news/metro/20050505-9999-1m5pot.html@x32'> The longtime activist claimed he was operating legally under Proposition 215, the 1996 voter-approved initiative that permits sick and dying patients to grow and use marijuana in California.

Despite the state law, marijuana remains illegal under federal drug rules, which categorize it as a dangerous drug.

In his lawsuit, McWilliams said San Diego police should not have participated in the raid because he was acting in accordance with city and state guidelines.

The San Diego Superior Court dismissed the case and McWilliams appealed.

The 4th District Court of Appeal ruled last week that the Superior Court correctly dismissed the case.

The appellate judges noted that the city officers had been deputized as federal agents. They also said the state law 'creates a limited immunity from prosecution under the drug laws for certain marijuana use, but there is nothing in the statute's operative provisions that creates an unqualified 'right' to use medical marijuana.'

After the raid, McWilliams was facing 40 or more years in prison. In a plea agreement, he pleaded guilty to felony cultivation and received a six-month sentence. The jail term was stayed while his criminal conviction is on appeal.

McWilliams criticized the appeals court for relying on what he called the narrowest possible interpretation of the state's medical marijuana law in upholding the Superior Court decision.

'There's no restraint on police now to obey Proposition 215,' he said. 'The courts are basically having a negative view of 215.'

Joseph Elford, staff attorney for Americans for Safe Access, an activist group in Oakland, said he disagreed with the ruling in McWilliams' lawsuit.

'The court appears to have been ideologically motivated to have dismissed this suit,' he said. 'This is a state law, but it's being applied very differently based on whatever locality you're part of.'

In a related case, ASA sued the California Highway Patrol in February, alleging that state law enforcement officials routinely fail to recognize Proposition 215.

Medical marijuana supporters and law enforcement officials across the country are awaiting a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court that may finally resolve the years-old conflicts between state and federal drug laws. A ruling in that case, Ashcroft v. Raich, is due any time.

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