Medical Marijuana Group Gets $139,000 In Attorneys Fees From Garden Grove

June 16, 2009

Steve Elliott, SF Weekly

Will grass get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no grass? National medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access (ASA) may not have to find out, as it just received $139,000 for attorney fees by the City of Garden Grove in a landmark medicinal pot case.

Throw in the more than $100,000 spent by the City of Garden Grove fighting the state's medical marijuana law, and the L.A. suburb spent a likely total of more than a a quarter of a million dollars, according to ASA.

The case involved the wrongful seizure of medical marijuana from Garden Grove patient Felix Kha. The city's argument that California's medical marijuana law was pre-emted by federal law was rejected in the landmark decision. Instead, the Fourth Appellate District Court ruled, "it is not the job of the local police to enforce the federal drug laws."

According to chief counsel Joe Elford of ASA, Garden Grove made the unfortunate decision to spend in the neighborhood of $250,000 in its stubborn refusal to return medical marijuana worth about $200. "Nevertheless, this should force local officials to better uphold medical marijuana patients' rights under the law," Elford said.

Kha was pulled over by Garden Grove Police in June of 2005. He was cited for possession of marijuana, despite showing officers his medical documentation. The marijuana charge against Kha was subsequently dismissed, with the Superior Court of Orange County issuing an order for the police to return Kha's eight grams of marijuana. The police, backed by the City of Garden Grove, refused to return the medicine and the city appealed.

While Kha's case was before the appellate court, state Attorney General Jerry Brown filed a "friend of the court" brief on behalf of Kha, backing his right to possess medical marijuana. Several rigidly anti-pot law enforcement associations statewide then filed briefs in support of Garden Grove, challenging the legitimacy of California's medical marijuana law.

The ASA's Elford said he has received hundreds of complaints from medical marijuana patients about local anti-pot cops seizing their drugs on the logic that "we'll take it from you and let the courts sort it out."

Elford said the decision, handed down by the California Supreme Court in March 2008 and the U.S. Supreme Court in December 2008, along with the crowning achievement, today's settlement for attorney fees, is a huge victory for medical marijuana advocates.

"Better adherence to state medical marijuana laws by local police will result in fewer needless arrests and seizures, and will allow for better implementation of those laws not only in California, but in all medical marijuana states," Elford said.

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