Medical marijuana lawsuit chances budding

April 07, 2010

Howard Yune, Appeal-Democrat

After Sutter County supervisors' refusal to issue identification cards to medical marijuana users, cannabis advocates say a lawsuit to force the program into being is their possible next step. A lawyer for Americans for Safe Access said Thursday the group may launch litigation against the county to force it to issue the cards, which help those using the drug under a doctor's direction identify themselves to law enforcement as legal medical users. State law requires such programs in all counties, but the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday blocked the launch of its own program by a 3-2 vote.

County officials "are saying 'We recognize this as state law, but we'll flout it nonetheless,'" said Joe Elford, an Oakland-based attorney for the group, which campaigns to overhaul marijuana laws nationwide. "They have the obligation to obey this regardless of their personal views on medical marijuana."

Still unclear is whether Sutter County could face state sanctions for resisting the ID card requirement, which passed in 2003 as Senate Bill 420. A spokeswoman for Attorney General Jerry Brown, Christine Gasparac, declined to comment Thursday on any possible enforcement action.

Americans for Safe Access previously has written other California counties warning legal action unless they issued identification for marijuana users, according to Elford, who credited the campaign for leading Solano County to start providing user cards in 2007.

Several counties initially resisted providing ID to cannabis users, and San Diego and San Bernardino counties led an unsuccessful fight to overturn the requirement in court. Sutter and Colusa counties are the last counties without a card program.

Elford suggested one way to avoid a showdown could be for the county to have an outside company issue the cards, something Jim Whiteaker — one of three supervisors to vote against the in-county program — has proposed to avoid county workers' involvement. Alameda County began issuing ID for cannabis users in April 2006 under a similar arrangement.

"They've dragged their feet an awful long time, but if they tell us in good faith that they plan to implement it with a private entity, we'd willingly work with them on that," said Elford.

However, a local activist and group member was far more combative, warning the board's decision might trigger not only a lawsuit, but a push to force three supervisors from office.

Yuba City resident Juston Purcell said he and other members of the Yuba-Sutter Medical Cannabis Alliance will meet later this month to consider filing a recall campaign against Whiteaker, Larry Munger and Larry Montna, all of whom voted to veto Sutter County's ID card program.

"The state constitution gives them no power to not enact the program," said Purcell, who said his father used cannabis to treat digestion and appetite problems while terminally ill with cancer before dying in 1999. "In doing so they are bringing in their personal views rather than enacting the law, and it's a possible grounds for recall."

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