County: Ruling on pot lacking

December 10, 2006

Corinne Reilly, Merced Sun-Star

Merced County officials say a state judge's ruling against the county upholding California's medical marijuana law is inadequate.

County officials haven't decided whether to appeal the recent ruling, but said in a brief statement issued by the Board of Supervisors on Thursday that the decision "doesn't fully address" whether the county should comply with state or federal marijuana laws.

San Diego Superior Court Judge William R. Nevitt, Jr. ruled Wednesday against Merced and two other counties when he refused to overturn California's law permitting medicinal uses of the drug.

The counties argued that because federal law prohibits all uses of the drug, counties shouldn't be held to the state law that requires them to accommodate medical marijuana users by issuing them identification cards.

Nevitt's ruling said counties would not be breaking federal law by issuing the identification cards, but it didn't go so far as to force the counties to issue them.

County officials say the board will meet in closed session Tuesday to discuss whether they'll appeal the ruling.

Members of the Board of Supervisors and county attorneys declined to comment further.

The county joined the lawsuit, along with San Diego and San Bernadino counties, earlier this year after repeated pleas from Merced resident Grant Wilson to implement a program to issue identification cards for medical marijuana users.

Wilson, who suffers from Hepatitis C, was arrested last year after police discovered pot plants growing in his home.

Members of the board said when the county joined the lawsuit that they weren't necessarily seeking to overturn the state law. Rather, the board said it only sought guidance as to which law -- state or federal -- it should follow.

Officials with both San Diego and San Bernadino counties also say they haven't decided whether to appeal, but agreed the ruling failed to provide adequate guidance.

Nevitt's ruling confirmed a provisional decision made in the case in November.

Medical marijuana advocate Aaron Smith of Safe Access Now said the ruling is a victory for patients who rely on marijuana.

"I hope the county will do the right thing, let this ruling stand, and move into compliance with the law," Smith said.

California voters passed the law allowing medical uses of the drug in 1996.

Currently only 23 of California's 58 counties are issuing identification cards, Smith said.

Reporter Corinne Reilly can be reached at 385-2477 or creilly@mercedsun-star.com.



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