County to appeal court's decision on marijuana IDs

December 20, 2006

Jeff Horowitz, Redlands Daily Facts

San Bernardino County isn't prepared to drop its challenge to state-mandated medical marijuana ID cards.

At a meeting Tuesday, the county Board of Supervisors voted to appeal a San Diego court's ruling that issuing the cards did not violate federal narcotics law.

The board's decision isn't based on opposition to medicinal uses of the drug, Supervisor Gary Ovitt said after the meeting.

"It's a law issue," he said, adding that it would put sheriff's officials - some of whom may be called upon to enforce both state and federal law - in a difficult position.

The board took no position on the health benefits of the drug or the state's voter-approved medical marijuana law, he said.

Sheriff Gary Penrod agreed in a written statement issued by the county.

An initial attempt to challenge the law by San Diego, Merced and San Bernardino counties was thrown out by the court.

In a Dec. 6 ruling, San Diego Superior Court Judge William Nevitt Jr. found that counties had solid legal footing to issue cards allowing medical marijuana patients to grow, possess and transport the drug.

But the judge declined to issue an immediate injunction forcing the three counties to immediately issue the cards.

Merced County has since consented to the cards' issuance and will not join the appeal.

"The results are going to be binding statewide either way," said Walt Wall, a deputy counsel for Merced County.

Although California law mandated counties begin issuing the cards last January, more than half of the state's 58 counties have yet to do so.

At the board meeting Tuesday, medical marijuana patients and advocates assailed San Bernardino County's decision to continue its suit.

Ten years of challenges have failed to overturn California's medical marijuana law, said Aaron Smith, state coordinator for Safe Access, a medical marijuana advocacy group.

Other advocates for ID cards argued that withholding legal protections for medical marijuana patients was simply cruel.

"You're going to be pushing sick patients out to the streets to find dealers," said Krista Silva, who said her husband is a patient.

County attorneys have expended roughly $60,000 in staff time on the case to date, though that number does not truly reflect the cost to the county, said county spokesman David Wert.

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