Medical pot advocates challenge county suit

January 24, 2006

Elliot Spagat, Associated Press

Medicinal marijuana advocates on Tuesday challenged a San Diego County lawsuit that seeks to overturn a state law permitting the use of pot for medical purposes.

The county sued the state of California and its director of health services on Friday in federal court, saying federal law that prohibits marijuana use trumps state law that allows it. California approved the use of marijuana for medical purposes with the passage of Proposition 215, which won 55 percent votes cast in 1996.

San Diego is the only California county that has refused to provide identification cards to registered medical marijuana users.

The American Civil Liberties Union, Americans for Safe Access and the Drug Policy Alliance filed a motion to intervene on behalf of patients including Pamela Sakuda, 58, who uses marijuana to treat side effects of chemotherapy for rectal cancer. The San Diego woman said the drug has quelled nausea and stimulated her appetite.

"The supervisors have turned a deaf ear to the pleas of sick and dying people, and now they have shown that they are equally willing to ignore the law," said Joe Elford, chief counsel for Americans for Safe Access.

According to the ACLU, 11 states have approved marijuana for medical purposes. California was first, followed by Montana, Arizona, Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and, most recently, Rhode Island.

The county's five Republican supervisors were mostly silent as several marijuana users urged them Tuesday to drop the lawsuit filed last week in San Diego. One supervisor, Ron Roberts, garnered applause when he said he opposed the lawsuit.

"Your actions are unjust, unlawful and un-American," said Wendy Christakes of La Mesa, an east San Diego suburb, who has used marijuana since 2003 to treat a back injury. She used a cane to step up to the microphone.

Rudy Reyes, 28, said marijuana has allowed him to sleep after massive wildfires in 2003 burned 75 percent of his body and put him in the hospital for eight months. He said doctors at University of California, San Diego Medical Center recommended the drug after his body rejected morphine.


"I don't have flashbacks, I don't have those middle-of-the-night terrors," he said in an interview after urging the supervisors to drop their fight.

Last year, a 3-2 board majority voted to ignore a state requirement that counties issue identification cards for medical marijuana users and maintain a registry of people who apply for the cards. The move came despite a warning from the county counsel that the move would likely result in costly litigation.

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