Medical marijuana user tries to stop DMV from taking her license

December 21, 2004

Brian Melley, Associated Press

The Department of Motor Vehicles postponed a driver's license test for a medical marijuana user with a case before the Supreme Court after her lawyer claimed she was being unfairly targeted for review without any driving violations.

Diane Monson received notice from the DMV earlier this month that she needed to appear at a re-examination hearing Thursday or would lose her license. The notice did not say why she was selected, but she said with the exception of a speeding ticket 15 years ago she had spotless record.

'I still feel very strongly that I've done nothing whatsoever to warrant this investigation,' Monson said Tuesday after being notified the hearing was scrapped.

DMV brass put the hearing on hold and launched a 'top to bottom' internal review of the case after Monson and her lawyer hand-delivered a cease-and-desist notice to the agency's headquarters, said spokesman Bill Branch. Inquiries from news reporters brought the matter to the attention of officials.

'So far as top-level DMV officials can recall, we are not aware of any other cases involving medicinal marijuana,' Branch said.

The agency would not say why Monson was selected for a re-examination hearing, which are held routinely in cases involving drivers involved in serious crashes or who have been cited for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol at least three times over three years.

Monson had just passed and eye exam to renew her license when she was notified of the so-called re-examination. It arrived shortly after her medical marijuana case was heard by the Supreme Court.

Monson, 47, an accountant from Oroville, is a plaintiff in a case that will determine whether federal law enforcement agents can seize pot grown by users in states where it can be legally prescribed as medicine. Monson takes the drug to relieve back pain.

She and another California woman filed suit against Attorney General John Ashcroft because they feared their supply would disappear after federal agents seized six pot plants in 2002 on her rural property on Rattlesnake Peak.

They won in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that federal prosecution of medical marijuana users is unconstitutional if the pot is not sold, transported across state lines or used for nonmedicinal purposes.

California law allows people to grow, smoke or obtain marijuana for medical needs with a doctor's recommendation. Other states with such laws are Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington.

While the order from DMV did not specify why Monson was singled out, attorney David Michael said it was unheard of that someone with a near-perfect record would be selected. He said it was unconstitutional, illegal and an abuse of authority.

'The important thing is that Diane was given this notice not because of any driving, but solely because of the fact she's a medical cannabis patient,' Michael said.

Advocates for the use of pot as medicine said it's not uncommon for law enforcement to harass and intimidate patients.

'This whole landscape represents a culture of resistance by law enforcement and public officials to enforce state law,' said Kris Hermes of Americans for Safe Access, a national marijuana advocacy group.

Nathan Barankin, a spokesman for Attorney General Bill Lockyer, said there has been some confusion because of the unclear wording of Proposition 215, which legalized marijuana in 1996. He also said the state could improve its regulation of the drug. He said he had never heard of an instance such as Monson's with a DMV hearing required.

'Quite frankly, I find it strange,' Barankin said. 'It seems odd that this would happen.'

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