Medical Marijuana ID Program Halted, Suit Threatened
July 12, 2005
Brendan Coyne, The New StandardCiting a recent Supreme Court ruling that federal laws barring the use, distribution or possession of marijuana trump state statutes allowing the medicinal use of the drug, the California Department of Health Services (CDHS) halted a medical marijuana ID pilot program Friday.
The action comes a month after a five-to-four Supreme Court ruling found that federal interstate commerce laws can be used to prosecute medical marijuana users even if medical use has been legalized by the state, no monetary exchange takes place, and the plant never crosses state lines.
California's health director, Sandra Shewry, asked the state Attorney General’s office to review the state’s medicinal marijuana law in light of the decision before the Department will issue any new ID cards, the Associated Press reported Friday. According to the CDHS, cards have been issued to 123 people since the pilot program started in May.
In a statement, the Department noted it was concerned that by issuing the cards, which were meant to protect patients using marijuana at the behest of their doctors from arrest, the state was in violation of federal law and could put Californians at risk of prosecution.
'I am concerned about unintended potential consequences of issuing medical marijuana ID cards that could affect medical marijuana users, their families and staff of the California Department of Health Services,' Shewry said in the statement.
Yesterday, the American Civil Liberties Union and the advocacy group Drug Policy Alliance issued a statement threatening to sue the state to reinstate the program. A letter the two organizations sent to the governor and health director states that the CDHS does not have the power to suspend state law.
'It is shameful that a court may have to order the state to reopen the doors to its medical marijuana program, but this will be the inevitable result unless the governor backs down from this unfounded assault on legitimate medical marijuana patients,' the Alliance’s legal affairs director, Daniel Abrahamson, said in the statement.
In fact, California’s attorney general already sent a letter to all state law enforcement agencies in the wake of the June 6 Supreme Court ruling, stating that the ruling did not affect the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, the popularly-enacted California law that allows patients to use marijuana medicinally at a doctor’s discretion.
The new ID program was part of medical marijuana legislation signed into law by former Governor Gray Davis in October 2003. It arose out of the recommendations of a 1999 state task force commissioned by Attorney General Bill Lockyer to help implement the Compassionate Use Act.
Implementing the photo ID program was intended to aid law enforcement officials and medical professionals in separating medical marijuana users from those who are breaking the law by using or possessing the herb without a doctor’s permission, according to a statement posted to the Program’s website.