Challenge to Pot ID Law to Continue

January 24, 2006

Tony Perry and Ashley Powers, Los Angeles Times

Despite pleas from the ACLU and several individuals suffering chronic pain, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday declined to withdraw a lawsuit seeking to overturn a state law requiring the county to issue medical marijuana cards.

Meanwhile, San Bernardino County officials announced they supported the San Diego board's decision to challenge the state law on grounds that federal prohibition of marijuana use takes precedence. By day's end, the county counsel of San Bernardino had contacted his counterpart in San Diego to discuss legal strategy.

Kevin Keenan, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union's office for San Diego and Imperial counties, said he was disappointed but not surprised by the San Diego supervisors' decision to "forge ahead with this misguided lawsuit." The ACLU and two groups that support medical marijuana on Tuesday petitioned the federal court to allow them to oppose the lawsuit.

San Bernardino County Supervisors Dennis Hansberger and Josie Gonzales said their county's action was intended to force the state to clarify its policies on how local agencies should enforce drug laws. They said they believe San Bernardino County Sheriff Gary Penrod will join as a plaintiff, although Penrod could not be reached for comment.

"I don't want law enforcement trapped between a rock and a hard place," Gonzales said.

In 1996, 56% of California voters approved Proposition 215, which allowed doctors to prescribe cannabis for therapeutic use. Three years ago, state legislation mandated ID cards for patients and their caregivers.

But the U.S. Supreme Court in June ruled that federal officials could seize and destroy pot plants and arrest growers and consumers, even in the 11 states where the drug has been legalized for medical use.

Last month, federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents raided 13 San Diego-area marijuana dispensaries.

The San Diego lawsuit, filed last week in federal court, asserts that the requirement to issue medicinal marijuana ID cards is preempted by the federal Controlled Substances Act, which criminalizes pot, and an international treaty called the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. The ACLU asserts the county lacks legal standing to bring such a lawsuit.

San Bernardino County had tentative plans to begin issuing ID cards in February, but had not begun printing cards or designating staff for the project, which is now on hold, said county spokesman David Wert.

The state had calculated that up to 7,000 San Bernardino County residents might be eligible for cards, Wert said.

In December, Riverside County became the first Southern California county to begin issuing the ID cards, which include the marijuana user's photo and a computer-generated identification number.

Cardholders must submit a state form, proof of residency and their doctor's recommendation, and provide government-issued identification. The annual cost to get and renew the card is $100.

The San Diego supervisors last year voted 3 to 2 not to issue the identification card. On Tuesday, the supervisors listened to lawsuit opponents but declined to schedule a new vote on the issue.



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