Patients Get Say in Counties Legal Challenge to CA Medical Marijuana Law

SAN DIEGO – A San Diego Superior Court ruled today that lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans for Safe Access and the Drug Policy Alliance will be permitted to intervene in a lawsuit brought by several California counties seeking to thwart the state’s Compassionate Use Act, which makes medical marijuana legal for patients with a doctor’s recommendation. The groups joined the case on behalf of medical marijuana patients and their caregivers and doctors in order to assure their adequate representation in the legal proceedings.
“We look forward to the opportunity to stand together with patients in defense of the rights of states to allow medicine to those in need,” said David Blair-Loy, an attorney with the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties. “We are heartened that the court recognized the necessity of giving voice to those truly at risk from the counties’ ill-conceived actions.”

San Diego, San Bernardino and Merced counties argued in a lawsuit filed in state court that federal laws prohibiting all use of marijuana invalidate state laws that allow qualified patients to use medical marijuana. The ACLU, Americans for Safe Access (ASA) and the Drug Policy Alliance (the Alliance) filed legal papers on July 7, 2006 seeking to intervene in the proceedings.

“As the largest grassroots organization of patients, doctors and scientists advocating for safe and legal access, we feel it’s critically important that California’s medical marijuana laws be respected by everyone,” said Steph Sherer, executive director of ASA.

Daniel Abrahamson, director of legal affairs for the Alliance, added, “These county governments have ignored the needs of their sick and dying residents and the advice of California’s physicians. By intervening in the lawsuit, patients will have the chance to confront their rogue county officials in court and defend the legality of the Compassionate Use Act.”

In addition to entering the case, the group’s filing asked for a court order compelling the counties to abide by and implement California’s medical marijuana laws, as well as an order affirming that the state’s medical marijuana laws are not preempted by contrary federal statutes.

The lawsuit, initially brought by San Diego County and later joined by San Bernardino and Merced counties, challenges state laws that permit patients to use, and doctors to recommend,

medical marijuana under explicit exemptions from state criminal laws that otherwise prohibit all marijuana use. The counties’ lawsuit further challenges the state’s Medical Marijuana Program Act, which calls for the implementation of an identification card program that would allow police and others to more easily identify legitimate medical marijuana patients.

The ACLU, the Alliance and ASA maintain that state medical marijuana laws are not preempted by the federal ban on medical marijuana. While the federal government is free to enforce its prohibition on medical marijuana, even in states such as California that permit its use, all states remain free to adopt and implement policies of their own design – an opinion shared by the California Attorney General’s office and the attorneys general of several other states, including Colorado, Hawaii and Oregon, that permit medical use of marijuana.

The groups represent Wendy Christakes, Pamela Sakuda, William Britt and Yvonne Westbrook, Californians who use physician-recommended marijuana to treat medical conditions and their side-effects, including chronic pain and sciatica, multiple sclerosis, rectal cancer, epilepsy and post-polio syndrome. The groups also represent Sakuda’s spouse and caregiver, Norbert Litzinger, as well as Dr. Stephen O’Brien, a physician who specializes in HIV/AIDS treatment in Oakland, California, and believes that many of his seriously ill patients benefit from the medical use of marijuana.

In addition to being co-counsel, ASA is also a party to the proceedings on behalf of its membership, which includes thousands of medical marijuana patients, caregivers and physicians residing in California. The Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana (WAMM) is also represented by the groups. WAMM is a medical marijuana collective and hospice located in Santa Cruz, California, whose 250 members, the majority of whom are terminally ill, use marijuana to treat a range of conditions.

Legal papers available at:

www.aclu.org/drugpolicy/medmarijuana/26090lgl20060707.html

California Attorney General opinion affirming validity of medical marijuana laws

www.aclu.org/drugpolicy/medmarijuana/23565lgl20060119.html

Additional background on the case

www.aclu.org/drugpolicy/medmarijuana/23587prs20060124.html

The ACLU January 19, 2006 letter to the San Diego Supervisors explaining why medical marijuana laws are not preempted by federal law