CHP does about-face on pot-seizure policy
August 29, 2005
Josh Richman, Oakland TribuneMedical marijuana advocates declared victory Monday after the California Highway Patrol abandoned its policy of seizing marijuana from documented patients during traffic stops.
Kris Hermes, legal campaign director for the Oakland-based Americans for Safe Access, called it one of the most significant law-enforcement developments since Californians approved a compassionate-use law in 1996, as well as a vital clarification of that law following June's U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the drug's federal ban.
Hermes said the CHP's change of heart not only "should be instructive for all law enforcement in all corners of California" but might have a "ripple effect" beyond the Golden State's borders.
ASA and six patients or caregivers filed an Alameda County Superior Court lawsuit in February to stop the CHP from seizing marijuana from people presenting city or county registry identification cards or doctors' recommendations; the CHP was accepting only state-issued registry IDs, of which few had been issued. The plaintiffs claimed such seizures violated patients' and caregivers' right to due process of law and against unreasonable search and seizure.
The CHP issued a bulletin to its field offices Aug. 22 ordering officers to halt the seizures in cases in which the person has less than 8 ounces of marijuana and presents a valid local government ID card or signed doctor's recommendation. Officers can use their "sound professional judgment" to determine the document's validity or call the issuing agency or doctor.
CHP spokesman Lt. Joe Whiteford confirmed Monday that the change, which is effective immediately, resulted from the lawsuit and from directives from state Attorney General Bill Lockyer.
ASA Legal Affairs Director Joe Elford called it "a complete about-face ... to a policy that we are very pleased with" and "a shift in attitude that will be replicated throughout the state."
ASA still plans to negotiate with CHP for a final, court-approved settlement and for attorneys' fees.
Plaintiff Anthony Bowles, 28, of San Francisco said he's a caregiver for his mother — he wouldn't say for what illness or injury she uses marijuana, citing her privacy — who was stopped by the CHP in May 2004. Despite his San Francisco medical marijuana ID card, an officer seized an eighth of an ounce of marijuana from him and cited him for possession, a charge later dismissed in court.
Possession charges against the other five plaintiffs — James Haggard, 62, of Redwood City; Tiffany Simpson, 23, of Richmond; Mary Jane Winters, 54, of Ukiah; Kathleen Honzik, 42, of Whitehorn; and Shannon Stansberry of Nevada County — also were dismissed in court, but none got their marijuana back. They had all been stopped for violations such as speeding, expired tags, broken tail lights and the like.