Medical Marijuana Patients Serve San Diego Supervisors a Taste of their Own Medicine

January 24, 2006

SAN DIEGO - The American Civil Liberties Union, Americans for Safe Access and the Drug Policy Alliance announced today that they would intervene in the San Diego County Board of Supervisors' federal lawsuit against the State of California. The Supervisors' lawsuit seeks to overturn California's Compassionate Use Act, which permits patients to use, and doctors to recommend, medical marijuana under the explicit protection of state law. The group plans to file a motion to intervene in federal court on behalf of medical marijuana patients and their doctors by the end of the day.

"The stakes are too high for medical marijuana patients to depend on Governor Schwarzenegger and the Department of Health Services to defend their interests in court," said Allen Hopper, an attorney with the ACLU Drug Law Reform Project. "These patients and their doctors need to know that someone is looking out exclusively for their interests."

At this morning's Board of Supervisors meeting, local medical marijuana patients demanded that Supervisors drop their lawsuit and begin issuing medical marijuana identification cards in compliance with state law. The ACLU, Americans for Safe Access (ASA) and the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) joined patients in criticizing the Supervisors' lawsuit as baseless and promised at the meeting to immediately intervene in federal court unless the Supervisors complied with the demands. The Supervisors refused.

"The Supervisors have turned a deaf ear to the pleas of sick and dying people, and now they have shown that they are equally willing to ignore the law," said Joe Elford, chief counsel for Americans for Safe Access.

According to a letter the group delivered to the Supervisors at this morning's meeting, the law is clear that the County's lawsuit will soon be thrown out of federal court. The letter states: "It is clear that the lawsuit has no merit. Unambiguous binding Ninth Circuit precedent clearly holds that as a political subdivision of the State, San Diego County has no standing to sue the State in federal court alleging claims premised upon the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution."

"The Supervisors' decision to continue with the suit shows blatant disregard for the law and the will of their constituents," said Margaret Dooley of the Drug Policy Alliance. "We expect the court to dismiss their lawsuit in short order."

The letter submitted to the Board of Supervisors today goes on to say that even if the case were not dismissed, it would still be doomed to fail on the grounds brought forth in the complaint filed last Friday. The County asserts that California cannot enact laws allowing the use of medical marijuana because the United States is a party to the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, an international treaty signed in 1961.

Today's letter responded by saying: "the allegations in the Complaint pertaining to the Single Convention betray a basic misunderstanding of federalism and the law of pre-emption…There is nothing inconsistent about the federal government imposing the restrictions it imposes…while at the same time recognizing that, consistent with restrictions imposed by the Tenth Amendment, it may not conscript states into either enforcing federal laws or enacting specific state legislation."

Several proposed intervenors are represented by the ACLU, ASA and DPA in today's motion to intervene. Among them are Wendy Christakes, a 29-year old mother and resident of San Diego who has been using marijuana since December 2003 to treat chronic pain resulting from herniated discs and the removal of a portion of her backbone; Pamela Sakuda, a 58-year old stage-four rectal cancer patient who uses medical marijuana on the recommendation of her physician; and Norbert Litzinger, the husband of proposed intervening defendant Pamela Sakuda and her legal primary caregiver under state law.

In addition to patients, the group is representing as a proposed intervenor Dr. Stephen O'Brien, who specializes in HIV/AIDS treatment in Oakland, California. Many of Dr. O'Brien's patients experience AIDS-related nausea, wasting syndrome, and severe pain and find prescription drugs to be ineffective in reducing their symptoms. Dr. O'Brien believes that a significant subset of his seriously ill patients benefit from the medical use of marijuana.

"Medical marijuana patients are running out of time," said proposed intervenor Wendy Christakes. "While the Supervisors play politics and waste our money on frivolous lawsuits, we have to find a way to survive."

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