Anaheim sued over marijuana

September 16, 2007

Sarah Tully, Orange County Register (CA)

ANAHEIM – A medical-marijuana group is suing to stop Anaheim's new ban on dispensaries, believed to be the first legal challenge to such city laws in Orange County.

Judge David Thompson of Orange County Superior Court temporarily blocked Anaheim's law forbidding marijuana outlets from going into effect earlier this month. On Sept. 28, Thompson is scheduled to decide whether to stop the law until a trial.

Anaheim is one of about 15 Orange County cities that have banned or are considering outlawing dispensaries that issue marijuana to patients who have doctors' approval to use the drug for medical conditions.

Patients seek permission to use marijuana from doctors under California's voter-approved Proposition 215 in 1996 and a follow-up 2003 law, which clarified the law and ordered counties to issue identification cards to patients.

However, federal law still forbids marijuana possession in most cases, creating what some officials say is a conflict between federal, state and local laws.

Local cities recently began paying more attention to the issue since the Orange County Board of Supervisors decided in July to issue county photo-identification cards to medical-marijuana users. Those cities hoped their own laws would prevent card-carrying patients from buying marijuana in their areas. The board has approved fees for the cards, likely starting in December.

The Anaheim City Council unanimously approved an initial ban on dispensaries in July.

The Qualified Patients Association filed a lawsuit against the city, challenging the law on grounds that it conflicts with state law and violates the civil rights of disabled people, said attorney Tony Curiale.

Thompson issued the temporary restraining order Sept. 4, two days before the law was to become effective. The order covers members of the association only, said Moses Johnson, deputy city attorney.

Police Chief John Welter said Anaheim police are not enforcing the law for now.

City officials were unaware that the association was operating until they received the lawsuit, Johnson said. Police said they knew about another dispensary.

Lance Mowdy, the lead plaintiff, said he started the association about five months ago. The lawsuit says the association has more than 50 members, but Mowdy said there are about 500 users.

The association, without a sign, runs out of a strip mall with a pizza place, medical offices, laundromat and shop.

“To be honest, I don't see how we would lose. We're doing exactly what the state law says we can do,” said Mowdy, 21, of Huntington Beach.

Johnson said he expects the suit will end up in appeals court and other cities will watch the case.

“I feel pretty confident that in the long run we will be able to prove that state law is pre-empted by federal law,” Johnson said.



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