U.S. Supreme Court Affirms California's Medical Marijuana Law

May 18, 2009
Washington, D.C. -- Medical marijuana advocates celebrated today as the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a landmark case brought by San Diego County. Advocates assert that the High Court's decision removes one of the final obstacles to full implementation of California's medical marijuana laws. The lawsuit filed by San Diego in 2006 challenged the state-mandate to implement an identification card program for patients based on the argument that state law is preempted by federal law. However, both the San Diego Superior Court and the Fourth District Court of Appeals rejected that argument, which was followed by the California Supreme Court's refusal to review the case in 2008. Despite this failure in the state courts, the San Diego Board of Supervisors voted to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"No longer will local officials be able to hide behind federal law and resist upholding California's medical marijuana law," said Joe Elford, Chief Counsel with Americans for Safe Access (ASA), a national medical marijuana advocacy group, which represented patients in the county's lawsuit against the state. "The courts have made clear that federal law does not preempt California's medical marijuana law and that local officials must comply with that law."

After the California Supreme Court denied review of County of San Diego v. State of California in October of 2008, ASA filed a lawsuit in January against Solano County for its refusal to implement the state ID card program. "This decision and our lawsuit against Solano will undoubtedly have an impact on the other counties that have failed to implement the ID card program," continued Elford. ASA has given notice to all 10 counties (Colusa, Madera, Mariposa, Modoc, Mono, San Bernardino, San Diego, Solano, Stanislaus, and Sutter) of their obligation to implement the ID card program.

The San Diego case was preceded by another landmark medical marijuana case, City of Garden Grove v. Superior Court (Kha), which also involved preemption. In the Garden Grove or Kha case, both lower courts similarly found that state law was not preempted by federal law and that "it is not the job of the local police to enforce the federal drug laws." The defendant in that case, medical marijuana patient Felix Kha, was also represented by ASA and involved the California Attorney General's office. Advocates argue that it was the Kha case that, at least in part, compelled Attorney General Jerry Brown to issue enforcement guidelines in August 2008. ASA is currently seeking attorneys fees in the Kha case.

ASA worked with the ACLU Drug Law Reform Project to litigate the San Diego case, with both organizations on the side of the California Attorney General defending the state's medical marijuana law. The County of San Bernardino joined San Diego County in its original lawsuit and the subsequent appeals. The ID card program was adopted in 2004, resulting from the legislature's passage of SB 420, the Medical Marijuana Program Act.  The ID cards, when properly implemented, assist law enforcement and affords greater protection to patients.

Further information:
2008 landmark Court of Appeals ruling in the San Diego case: http://www.AmericansForSafeAccess.org/downloads/San_Diego_Appeal_Ruling.pdf
2008 landmark Court of Appeals ruling in the Kha case: http://www.AmericansForSafeAccess.org/downloads/GardenGroveDecision.pdf
ASA web page on the San Diego case: http://www.AmericansForSafeAccess.org/article.php?id=4405

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