Medical marijuana backers sue DMV

November 18, 2008

Josh Richman, Political Blotter

Oakland-based Americans for Safe Access, a medical marijuana advocacy group, sued the California Department of Motor Vehicles today on behalf of Rose Johnson, 53, of Atwater. The Merced County Superior Court

pdf'>lawsuit claims that despite Johnson’s clean driving record — not having caused an accident in 37 years of driving — the DMV refused to renew her license in July after finding she’s a medical-marijuana user and deeming that she had an “addiction to, or habitual use of, [a] drug” that renders her unable to safely operate a car.

“The only evidence introduced by the DMV to support this conclusion is the fact of Johnson’s medical marijuana use pursuant to state law,” the lawsuit says. “The DMV abused its discretion by suspending Johnson’s license on this basis.”

ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford issued a statement this afternoon saying when Calfornia voters passed Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, “they never intended to authorize the DMV to strip medical marijuana patients of their drivers’ licenses. The DMV should not be in the business of revoking the licenses of drivers like Ms. Johnson simply because she is a medical marijuana patient.”

And ASA says this isn’t an isolated case: DMV has suspended or revoking licenses of medical-marijuana patients in other counties including Alameda, Butte, Contra Costa, Glenn, Merced, Placer, Sacramento, and Sonoma.

Johnson’s case seems particularly ironic because Merced County, where she lives, last year instructed its sheriff’s deputies to respect state law and not cite medical marijuana patients or seize their medicine. Yet Johnson, never accused of driving while under the influence of marijuana or anything else, was denied her license renewal by a state agency for an activity allowed by state law.

And as I write this item, having just finished an article on the state Supreme Court’s impending review of Proposition 8, I’m wonder how much longer we’ll have to keep litgating and re-litigating the effects of a medical-marijuana initiative approved by voters 12 years ago. It seems California just can’t find a way to stop stepping on its own toes.



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