Critics decry Stone's call for medical pot suit

February 02, 2006

Jose Carvajal, North County Times (CA)

Before the county Board of Supervisors has even begun to discuss the matter, opponents to a supervisor's recent call for Riverside County to join an effort to overturn the state's medical marijuana law are lining up.

Medical marijuana advocates were joined Thursday by Supervisor Bob Buster in publicly disagreeing with Supervisor Jeff Stone, who earlier this week stated that he believes the county should join San Diego and San Bernardino counties in suing the state over the 9-year-old "Compassionate Use Act."

Approved by 55 percent of the voters in 1996, the law ---- Proposition 215 ---- allows the "seriously ill" to obtain and use marijuana for medicinal purposes. Stone, a pharmacist, argues the state is flouting federal laws that make marijuana an illegal drug.

But Buster said the county would be overstepping its duties and wasting taxpayer money by spending thousands of dollars in legal fees if it jumped on board with the challenge. The county is not in a position to question what the voters of California have decided they want, he said.

"We don't represent state voters who voted for this thing," he said. "I do not support it from a humanitarian standpoint nor do I think it's really any of the board's business to attempt (to challenge the law). I think it's well out of our jurisdiction."

The money the county would spend on the suit would best be used on other drug programs, Buster said.

Lanny Swerdlow, director of the Palm Springs-based Marijuana Anti-Prohibition Project, denounced Stone's call for Riverside to join the two other counties in challenging the medical marijuana law.

Californians have made it clear, he said, that they approve of the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

"This is not only what the people of the state want, this is what the Constitution of the state of California requires," Swerdlow said. "For a local supervisor to advocate the use of taxpayers' money to file a suit that would allow the federal government to overrule state and local governments on what is best for their own citizens is mind-boggling."

San Diego County officials filed their suit in U.S. District Court on Jan. 20, but withdrew it Thursday and filed it instead in San Diego Superior Court. If the case were to go to the district court, it would likely move on to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, a court the county's lawyers said they want to avoid because it has been more friendly to medical marijuana.

The suit, which is believed to be the first that seeks to overturn any of the medical marijuana laws approved by voters in 11 states, argues that any state laws should bow to federal laws that make all marijuana use illegal. It cites Article VI of the U.S. Constitution ---- known as the Supremacy Clause ---- which makes the Constitution and federal laws "the supreme law of the land."

San Diego County supervisors have said they think the state is asking them to break federal law by forcing them to issue identification cards that prevent medical marijuana users from being arrested.

It appears the counties have a tough legal battle ahead of them.

According to David B. Cruz, a constitutional law professor at the University of Southern California, the courts have already ruled that counties can't raise this kind of challenge.

And, he said, the Ninth Circuit Court has ruled that doctors are not breaking federal laws if they recommend to patients that they use marijuana.

"So it is fairly clear that issuance of the identification card that memorializes such a recommendation would not violate state law," he said. "If the federal government lacks either the resources or the political commitment to prosecute bona fide users of medical marijuana under California's compassionate use law, then in practice there would be no problem with California's doing what the voters have authorized."

Contact staff writer Jose Carvajal at (951) 676-4315, Ext. 2624, or jcarvajal@californian.com. To comment on this article, go to www.californian.com.



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