August 4, 2008
CA Court Upholds Medical Marijuana Program Against Supremacy Clause Challenge
A state appeals court upheld California's 12-year-old medical marijuana law Thursday, rejecting two counties' arguments that allowing patients to use the drug with their doctor's approval condones violations of federal narcotics laws.
The Fourth District Court of Appeal in San Diego dismissed challenges by San Diego and San Bernardino counties, which objected both to the 1996 marijuana initiative and to recent legislation requiring counties to issue identification cards to users of medical pot.
The cards protect their holders from arrest by state or local police for possessing small amounts of marijuana.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the federal government can enforce its drug laws, which ban marijuana use and cultivation, against patients and their suppliers in California and the 11 other states that have legalized medical marijuana under their own laws.
But in Thursday's ruling, the appeals court said states remain free to decide whether to punish drug users under their own laws.
"The (federal) law does not compel the states to impose criminal penalties for marijuana possession," said Justice Alex McDonald in the 3-0 ruling, which upheld a Superior Court judge's decision.
"The purpose of the (federal law) is to combat recreational drug use, not to regulate a state's medical practices."
Besides, McDonald said, the counties' only obligation under the California law is to process and hand out the ID cards, a requirement that poses no conflict with federal law.
State and local officers can't arrest marijuana users for violating the federal law, he said, and applications for the medical marijuana cards contain a warning that they provide no shield against federal authorities.
Although the state's decision to allow medical marijuana use "arguably undermines the goals" of the federal law, McDonald said, county governments are unaffected by any such conflicts and therefore have no right to sue to overturn the entire state law.
San Diego County's lawyer, Senior Deputy County Counsel Thomas Bunton, said county supervisors may decide by next week whether to appeal to the state Supreme Court. He said a future appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court is also possible.
"We think the court should have found that California's medical marijuana laws are pre-empted by the federal law," Bunton said. "We think (the ID card law) requires us to issue cards in support of conduct that violates federal law."
Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]
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