County to appeal medical-marijuana ruling

December 13, 2006

Jeff McDonald, San Diego Union-Tribune

A week after a Superior Court judge threw out their case against California's medical-marijuana laws, San Diego County's supervisors have voted to appeal the ruling.

The case will be sent to the 4th District Court of Appeal, with county lawyers again arguing that San Diego County should not have to enforce state laws that conflict with federal laws.

Superior Court Judge William R. Nevitt Jr. “kind of gave us the politically correct opinion that we ignored the will of the voters,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Horn said. “Maybe the 4th District will give us an answer.”

In January, San Diego County sued the state of California rather than implement medical-marijuana laws that permit qualified patients to smoke and grow marijuana and require counties to issue them identification cards.

The county was later joined by San Bernardino and Merced counties in trying to overturn Proposition 215, the 1996 initiative approved by 56 percent of voters that permitted the medical use of marijuana.

Merced County supervisors voted Tuesday against appealing Nevitt's ruling. Instead, the county will begin issuing verification cards to patients as soon as next month, a county spokesman said.

Marijuana remains illegal under federal drug laws. But Nevitt ruled that the state laws do not conflict with national statutes because they do not require that people break the law.

What's more, Nevitt's ruling noted, the state law does not prohibit federal officials from arresting and prosecuting anyone they suspect of violating federal drug laws.

Adam Wolf, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, which is co-defending the case with the state Department of Justice, said the appeal will waste taxpayer resources.

“The law is clear,” Wolf said. “The federal government cannot force the states to criminalize medical marijuana.”

Supervisor Dianne Jacob said the county filed the appeal to resolve the conflict between state and federal drug laws. “We are not hiring any outside counsel or outside experts,” she said. “These are our lawyers, and they were being paid anyway.”

Tuesday's closed-session vote to appeal was 4-1, with Supervisor Ron Roberts opposed. It is unclear when the appeal will be filed or when the appellate judges will consider the case.

Supervisor Greg Cox said he supported the county's issuing ID cards to qualified patients, but when that vote failed 3-2 late last year, he decided to go along with the lawsuit.


Jeff McDonald: (619) 542-4585;

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