County won't set up state-ordered medical-marijuana program

October 31, 2005

, San Diego Union Tribune

A potential legal showdown between the county and state loomed large Tuesday after the Board of Supervisors decided against setting up a state-ordered medical marijuana identification card and registry program.

Supervisors Pam Slater-Price, Bill Horn and Dianne Jacob voted against the program, which was mandated for all California counties by Senate Bill 420.

Supervisors Ron Roberts and Greg Cox cast the dissenting votes.

Employees in the County Counsel's office said they believed every other county in the state was moving forward on compliance with the program. If the county doesn't comply with the program, it risks legal action, they said.

In 1996, the state's voters passed Proposition 215, which decriminalized the use of medical marijuana under state law. However, under federal law, it is illegal to use marijuana for medical purposes, and that led Slater-Price, Horn and Jacob to question why state law should supersede federal law.

"In my eyes, this mandate is in conflict with federal law, and I cannot in good conscience vote to break that law," Jacob said.

"If the state is so convinced of the merits of this program, the state should be shouldering the burden of its implementation and not force counties to do its dirty work," she said.

Horn agreed.

"It is pure hypocrisy to approve the medical marijuana identification program," he said.

Slater-Price, who chairs the Board of Supervisors, said Proposition 215 needed more scrutiny. She said she was willing to challenge the identification card program even if the odds were stacked against the board and considering the potential costs to the county.

But Cox and Roberts argued it was better to approve the program, then move to revoke Prop. 215, which all five board members agreed was a "bad" law.

Roberts said challenging state law would have "little chance of success."

"I have misgivings about this, but the legal aspects are clear. We have to pick our battles," he said.

"We have a legal obligation to move forward," Cox said.

All of the public speakers at Tuesday's board meeting urged rejection of the program, with some arguing it gives the impression that marijuana is harmless and could make the drug more available to young people.

No one spoke in favor.

"What we witnessed today was responsible government and leadership by the county Board of Supervisors in their decision ... Acceptance of this program ... would have condoned illegal drug use and facilitated distribution," said Kevin McClure, executive director of the San Diego Prevention Coalition.

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