Santa Cruz, ACLU renew fight for medical marijuana

January 30, 2006

Ken McLaughlin, Mercury News (San Jose)

The city of Santa Cruz and a local medical marijuana collective on Tuesday asked a federal court in San Jose to approve the city's plan to provide marijuana directly to sick and dying patients.

The amended complaint represents a renewed legal fight to force the U.S. government to honor medical marijuana laws passed by California and 11 other states.

The American Civil Liberties Union, Drug Policy Alliance, the national law firm of Bingham McCutchen and a handful of private attorneys filed legal documents outlining new constitutional arguments based on an ordinance recently enacted by the Santa Cruz City Council creating the first medical marijuana department in the country. The department is known as the Office of Compassionate Use, but the city has made clear it has no intention of actually distributing marijuana unless it wins the legal battle.

Californians in 1996 voted to allow the use of medicinal marijuana. But the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in June that the federal government had the right to enforce its own drug laws. Lawyers for medicinal marijuana patients, however, remain hopeful they can still press ahead in the courts because the Supreme Court chose not to address some constitutional issues in last year's ruling.

The U.S. Constitution permits states to determine for themselves what is legal and what is illegal under state law, lawyers argued in Tuesday's filing. In the case of medical marijuana, the plaintiffs argue that the federal government has attempted to sabotage state laws through arrests, prosecutions and other means.

``The White House wants California to march in lock step with its misguided prohibition of medical marijuana, but the Constitution says otherwise,'' said Allen Hopper, an attorney with the ACLU Drug Law Reform Project, based in Santa Cruz.

The case originated in 2003 when medical-marijuana groups and others sued the federal government for raiding a Santa Cruz medical marijuana cooperative, the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana.

Contact Ken McLaughlin at

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