Medical marijuana protest comes down to federal-state question

May 31, 2006

Robert McCockran, Times-Herald (CA)

About a dozen medical marijuana advocates held an orderly protest Wednesday in front of the Solano County courthouse, saying local law enforcement has been ignoring state law and arresting patients for having marijuana.

But Solano County supervisors countered that marijuana possession is still illegal under federal law.

As protesters stood in front of the Hall of Justice - some holding signs - Leona Mae Benjamin and John Benjaminsen were inside asking for a preliminary hearing postponement because they'd hired a new attorney. The couple, described by protesters as a caregiver and patient, was arrested in October at their home near Rio Vista for allegedly cultivating and selling marijuana.

Galen R. Lawton, 38, Solano Patients' Group spokesman, called on the Board of Supervisors to allow the county health department to issue medical marijuana identification cards. Solano is the only county in the Bay Area that does not have such a program, he said.

Lawton said agencies like the Benicia Police Department and Solano County Sheriff's Office have opted to "hide behind federal law instead of following state law."

Proposition 215, passed by California voters in 1996, aimed to exempt from prosecution, patients and caregivers who possess or cultivate marijuana for medical treatment recommended by a physician.

Nevertheless, "it's a federal violation," said Supervisor John Silva, District 2-Benicia, "the use of marijuana for medical or any other purposes and I don't support the violation of the law.

"I think the U.S. Supreme Court trumps state law," he said.

Supervisor Mike Reagan, District 5-Vacaville, agreed, saying "there is a supremacy clause in the Constitution that makes federal laws override local druthers. It's illegal and as far as I'm concerned will remain so in Solano County."

Lawton and his wife, Laura Jane Coleman, were arrested in December 2004 on suspicion of cultivating, possessing and selling marijuana. Their cases are scheduled for jury trial in July.

Lawton said patients are not asking for special privileges, but law enforcement is supposed to follow state law even when it is in conflict with federal law.

Solano County District Attorney Dave Paulson was not available to comment on the cases being prosecuted and no one from the health department responded to requests to discuss the identification card program.

Supervisor John Vasquez, District 4-Vacaville, said he wasn't even sure people can cultivate marijuana under state law. He said right now he probably wouldn't support a medical marijuana identification card program.

Supervisor Barbara Kondylis, who represents Vallejo, could not be reached for comment.

Duane Kromm, District 3-Fairfield, said many health care professionals don't think there's much medical validity to medical marijuana.

"The various ailments and diseases and symptoms and things that folks that want to use marijuana to help take care of - the medical folks I've talked to would all seem to indicate that there's better or more efficient ways to treat them," he said.

"I'm not necessarily against marijuana, but I don't think the medical marijuana is particularly valuable or a necessary procedure."

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