DMV: Licenses can't be revoked over medi-pot

March 03, 2009

Marcus Wohlsen, Associated Press, San Diego Union Tribune

— State officials have spelled out guidelines saying California drivers cannot lose their licenses just because they have a medical marijuana prescription.

A revised Department of Motor Vehicles' training memo instructs agency staff to treat medical marijuana like any other prescription drug when considering whether to renew a driver's license.

Medical marijuana advocates released the memo this week and credited what they called changes in DMV policy to lawsuits filed by medical marijuana patients whose licenses were revoked.

A DMV spokesman said the revisions do not represent a new policy but merely put into writing practices already in place.

"There has been no change in DMV policy," said department spokesman Steve Haskins. "We do not automatically revoke the licenses of those who have a prescription for medical marijuana."

According to the memo, hearing officers determining whether to renew a driver's license should handle medicinal marijuana use approved by a physician like they would any prescription medication that could affect safe driving.

"The hearing officer should inquire as to the frequency of use, time of use, and the relationship to driving as they would with the use of other prescribed medications," the memo says.

The memo still gives the DMV leeway to deny licenses to drivers addicted to drugs or alcohol.

Americans for Safe Access, a medical marijuana advocacy group, sued the DMV in November on behalf of 53-year-old Rose Johnson, who said the agency refused to renew her license because she was a medical marijuana patient.

Her attorney, Joe Elford, said DMV documents cited Johnson's marijuana use as the reason for denying her a license, even though she had a clean driving record for 37 years. The group has asserted that similar situations have occurred in at least eight counties.

Johnson was not accused of driving while under the influence of marijuana, which is still a crime, Elford said.

The DMV declined to comment on Johnson's suit or whether it was connected to the timing of the revised guidelines.

Americans for Safe Access spokesman Kris Hermes said the group's attorneys had been in talks with the DMV over its medical marijuana policies.

"I don't think the DMV can get away with saying the policy is not a change," Hermes said. "Clearly it has not been the case based on evidence from our experience."

Johnson's license was reinstated in January, and she plans to drop her lawsuit, Hermes said.

Medical marijuana is legal in California under a voter-approved law passed in 1996.

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