Judge orders return of man's marijuana

February 05, 2009

Charles Nguyen, Desert Dispatch

BARSTOW • M.J. Somers said he wanted to live by the law — and that’s why he got his medical marijuana permit.

“I know it sounds weird, but I went for the weed license because I try to be a law-abiding citizen,” said the 27-year-old Helendale resident. “I’m not a fiend for marijuana that gets it from the corner or the streets. I just need to smoke because I have health problems — and that’s it.”

But Somers, who has a doctor-issued license to carry up to eight ounces to treat chronic what he calls “chronic muscle pains and seizures,” said he felt like criminal when he was stopped by Barstow sheriff’s deputies on Route 66 in early January. During the traffic stop, deputies confiscated close to an ounce of medical-grade marijuana Somer said he had just purchased from a clinic in Los Angeles.

In a Barstow courtroom on Jan. 29, Judge Steve Mapes ordered the marijuana’s return after Somers presented his legal permit. Somers said Mapes cited a similar case in Garden Grove in 2005 where a district court ordered the return of one-third of an ounce of marijuana police had confiscated in a traffic stop. An appeal by Garden Grove officials was refused by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008.

Mapes could not be reached for comment.

Somer’s case highlights a conflict for county law enforcement agencies, according to Lt. Rick Ells, a spokesman for the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department. The county is currently challenging a state law that requires it to issue legal identification cards to medical marijuana patients, claiming that doing so would violate federal law that prohibits marijuana use.

“Our deputies ... [that] are sworn to uphold both federal and state laws are faced with a dilemma as to which law to enforce,” Ells said.

San Bernardino and San Diego County filed their case on Jan. 16 with the U.S. Supreme Court, which will accept or reject it later this year. Until the case is decided, Ells said the county will continue to uphold federal law prohibiting marijuana use, “until we receive clarification from the courts.”

Ells said he could not comment on Somers’ specific case because he had not yet seen a copy of the court order.

People stopped by county deputies in possession of the drug will have it seized and receive a citation, Ells said. Deputies will document the existence of the medical marijuana card in the report they send to the district attorney, who decides if the case will be pursued, he said.

The resistance to medical marijuana at local levels of government and law enforcement is dwindling, according to Kris Hermes, spokesman for Americans for Safe Access, the Oakland-based medical marijuana advocacy group that represented the Garden Grove man.

“There are a few hostile counties like San Bernardino that still stand against medical marijuana,” Hermes said. “But landmark rulings like the Garden Grove case are helping us fully implement and see enforcement of state law.”

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