Medical Marijuana Advocates Force Change to California DMV Policy

March 03, 2009
Oakland, CA -- The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) issued a new policy yesterday with regard to how it treats qualified medical marijuana patients. The DMV Driver Safety Procedure Manual was revised to include reference to medical marijuana, stating that "use of medicinal marijuana approved by a physician should be handled in the same manner as any other prescription medication which may affect safe driving." The manual states that the existence of medical marijuana use "does not, in itself, constitute grounds for a license withdrawal action. "
What: Media teleconference to discuss new DMV medical marijuana policy
When: Wednesday, March 4th at Noon
Where: Call (877) 209-9920, confirmation code: 991279
Who: Medical marijuana patients adversely affected by previous DMV policy & ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford
The change in DMV policy was the result of a lawsuit filed on November 19, 2008 by medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access (ASA) on behalf of Rose Johnson, a 53-year-old patient from Atwater, whose driving license was revoked because of her status as a patient. Despite Ms. Johnson's clean driving record, not having caused an accident in 37 years of driving, the DMV revoked her license on July 26, 2008. According to the DMV, Ms. Johnson's license was revoked "because of...[an] addiction to, or habitual use of, [a] drug," thereby rendering her unable to safely operate a motor vehicle, even though no evidence existed to substantiate this claim. In January, as a result of the lawsuit and a positive driving test by Ms. Johnson, the DMV reinstated her license and issued the new policy before the case had a chance to be heard in Superior Court.

"The new DMV policy is a significant departure from how the agency approached medical marijuana in the past," said ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford, who represented Ms. Johnson in her claim against the DMV. "Drivers will no longer have their licenses suspended or revoked simply because of their status as medical marijuana patients."

Advocates assert that the DMV policy of suspending and revoking the licenses of medical marijuana patients was widespread, occurring in at at least 8 California counties, including Alameda, Butte, Contra Costa, Glenn, Merced, Placer, Sacramento, and Sonoma. License revocations by the DMV, which have been based on a person's status as a medical marijuana patient, are often rationalized by calling the drivers "drug abusers" despite no evidence of the claim. "This DMV policy change represents a victory for patients, which puts us closer to full implementation of California's medical marijuana law," said Elford.

The DMV will be advising its Driver Safety employees of the policy change in a training session scheduled for Wednesday.

Further information:
DMV's policy change re medical marijuana: http://AmericansForSafeAccess.org/downloads/DMV_Policy.pdf
ASA's lawsuit against the DMV: http://AmericansForSafeAccess.org/downloads/DMV_Writ.pdf

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