County to sue to overturn medical marijuana law

December 06, 2005

Gig Conaughton, North County Times

County supervisors decided behind closed doors Tuesday to sue to try to overturn California's 9-year-old medical marijuana law ---- the "Compassionate Use" initiative in which voters statewide said it was OK for seriously ill people to use marijuana to ease their pain. Supervisors announced last month they would sue the state because they did not want to create registries and identification cards to help medical marijuana users. But they left open the question of whether they would try to overturn Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act.

On Tuesday, the board made it official, voting 4-0, with Supervisor Ron Roberts absent, to challenge the initiative.

"It just seemed logical to us," Supervisor Bill Horn said Tuesday afternoon. "Why Mickey Mouse around about it?"

Horn and other supervisors have said repeatedly that they think Prop. 215 is a "bad law," and that supporting it would tell children that marijuana was OK, and would increase drug abuse.

But the board will officially try to overturn the initiative on the grounds that the state's proposition should be superseded by federal law ---- which considers marijuana illegal. John Sansone, the county's lead attorney, said the suits would be filed in federal court sometime this month, and that the challenge could eventually reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

Although 11 states have passed medical marijuana laws, the federal government still categorizes marijuana as a "Schedule 1" drug ---- meaning that it has no recognized medical value, putting it in the same classification as heroin, mescaline and LSD.

Ironically, the federal Food and Drug Administration has ruled that the active ingredient in marijuana ---- tetrahydrocannabinol, or "THC" ---- has medicinal value and allows it to be sold as a prescription drug, but only if it is produced synthetically, rather than grown.

California voters, meanwhile, voted by 55 percent in 1996 to allow people with serious or chronic diseases, with a doctor's recommendation, to grow or use marijuana to ease pain and other ailments.

San Diego-area nurse practitioner Claudia Little is on the medical advisory board of Americans for Safe Access, a national organization in support of medical marijuana patients. A month ago, Little and others pleaded with the county not to challenge the state's request that it create a registry for medical marijuana users.

Tuesday night, reached at home, Little sighed heavily upon learning that the county was planning to take the state to court over the voter-approved law itself.

"It's totally political," Little said. "The population is in favor of medical marijuana. The politicians are so far behind the curve here, it's ridiculous. The politicians aren't representing the people, they are just representing a handful of outspoken opponents."

Some of those who pleaded with county supervisors to reconsider their decision to challenge the medical marijuana issue in recent weeks said they were mothers, grandmothers, military veterans and other upstanding citizens who found that marijuana helped them where popular prescription drugs failed.

Marijuana has been known to reduce eye pressure in glaucoma cases. And proponents have said it has been known to increase appetites of cancer and AIDS patients, and to ease pain in many chronic diseases.

Horn, however, said supervisors believe the federal government's stance ---- that grown marijuana has no medical value and should be illegal ---- is right.

Now, they need a court's ruling.

"We need a federal judge to tell us, 'Yes, you do this (state law),' or 'No, you don't,' " Horn said.

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