CA NORML News
Agents alleged that the targeted clubs had sold marijuana to customers lacking proper medical documentation. No one was arrested, but the agents seized patient and business records as well as medicine and cash. Authorities said they were interested in determining how much marijuana was being sold and who was supplying it.
Because the raid was conducted under state, not federal law, law enforcement agents were obliged to respect Prop. 215. "If history is a guide, patients need not worry that their records were seized," said California NORML coordinator Dale Gieringer, "Thousands of other legal patients have had records seized in previous raids, but none have been prosecuted as a result.
"It's too bad that San Diego has put so much emphasis on police raids, rather than trying to implement a legal framework for medical cannabis dispensaries."
Supervisors moved to sue the state after being threatened with a lawsuit from San Diego NORML for failing to implement the ID system.
At first, the county considered suing against state law SB 420, which requires county health departments to issue ID cards for medical marijuana patients.
The Supervisors had voted 3-2 to make San Diego the first county to refuse to implement the state card system, arguing that to do so would violate federal law. "In my eyes and in the eyes of the federal government, medical marijuana is against the law," declared Supervisor Diane Jacob. "The county will not roll over and allow the state to force us to break the law."
San Diego NORML President Laurie Kallonakis replied,"In voting to defy the state, the county has rejected the will of the California people." She warned that refusal to implement the IDs "regrettably would force us to bring a class action lawsuit to compel compliance."
The Supervisors subsequently voted 4-0 to launch a pre-emptive lawsuit of their own. County Counsel John Sansone indicated that he would sue the state in federal court on the grounds that SB 420 is overridden by federal laws against marijuana. "The question is whether producing and distributing a card like that sanctions, indirectly, the use of a federal criminal substance," he said.
On further consideration, the Supervisors voted 4-0 in closed session to sue against California's Compassionate Use Act itself. "It just seemed logical to us," said Supervisor Bill Horn. Sup. Ron Roberts was absent for the Board's vote.
Opponents complained that Prop. 215 was a "bad law" and encouraged drug abuse by kids. In fact, marijuana use by California youth has declined since passage of Prop. 215, according to the state's biennial surveys of student drug use.
Prop. 215, which passed in 1996 with support from 52% of San Diego county voters, has never been directly challenged in federal court. A legal challenge was considered but rejected by the original opponents of Prop. 215, led by Attorney General Dan Lungren, who concluded that Prop. 215 was constitutional.
Medical marijuana supporters are optimistic that the county will lose its lawsuit. The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that states cannot be compelled to enforce federal laws. In the Conant v. Walters case, it affirmed that physicians may not be federally penalized for recommending to patients under state medical marijuana laws. The state's law will be defended in court by Attorney General Bill Lockyer, a Prop. 215 supporter. County Counsel Sansome admitted toSan Diego City Beat that the county faces an "uphill battle."
The county's action has spurred a storm of protest among medical marijuana supporters. "It blows me away that they'd go against states' rights and the proposition process," said local activist Barbara MacKenzie, "As if they're not accountable to the people who elected them."
Earlier this year, the San Diego grand jury criticized the county for failing to take action to promote access to medical marijuana. "The San Diego County Board of Supervisors has been blinded by its prejudices against medical marijuana use and has failed to implement the will of California voters," it reported.
Despite the Board's opposition, medical marijuana use has been expanding rapidly in San Diego. In the past year, 18 dispensaries have opened in the area. Most are in the city, where officials are more sympathetic than in the surrounding county. Members of the city's task force on medical marijuana are said to be concerned that existing dispensaries are illegal. Local activists are hopeful that they can negotiate an agreement with the city that would allow dispensaries to operate. They are considering a city ordinance that would license and regulate dispensaries along lines similar to other cities such as San Francisco or West Hollywood.