Judge Issues Ruling Upholding Medical Marijuana Law

November 16, 2006

City Wire News, 10News (San Diego)

A San Diego judge Thursday issued a tentative ruling upholding California's medical marijuana law, finding against San Diego and two other counties that challenged voter-passed Proposition 215.

However, after hearing oral arguments, Superior Court Judge William Nevitt declined to issue a final decision in the lawsuit brought by San Diego, San Bernardino and Merced counties.

Passed by California voters in 1996, the so-called Compassionate Use Act allows the use of marijuana for pain treatment and other medical reasons.

The counties' lawsuit, filed in February, claims federal law banning marijuana use and possession supercedes state law that allows the medical use of marijuana.

The suit was filed against the local chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML, after the San Diego County Board of Supervisors refused to implement part of the state law requiring officials to issue identification cards to medical marijuana users to protect them from prosecution.

The American Civil Liberties Union, Americans for Safe Access and Drug Policy Alliance joined San Diego NORML in fighting the suit.

Thomas Bunton, the chief deputy counsel for San Diego County, told the judge that the federal Controlled Substances Act of 1970 contains a provision that overrides state drug laws.

"Authorizing anyone to use marijuana undercuts the objective of federal laws," Bunton said.

Federal law does not recognize the medical use of marijuana, the lawyer contended.

The ACLU's lawyer, Adam Wolf, said the medical marijuana law only bars state police from enforcing federal drug statutes.

"We're not saying federal law can't be enforced," Wolf said. "All we're saying is the state doesn't have to be an active partner with federal law enforcement."

Joseph Elford, an attorney for Americans for Safe Access, told the judge that there is no conflict between Proposition 215 and federal law.

Even with marijuana use allowed for medical purposes, California is "90 percent of the way" toward compliance with federal anti-drug statutes, Elford said.

The judge did not indicate when he would release his final ruling. He did ask lawyers to file briefs by Dec. 1.

Wolf said he would try to reach out-of-court agreements with the counties so that the judge would not have to issue an injunction.

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