Wednesday, August 31, 2005

CHP changes its medical marijuana policy

The Willitts News

By Josh Richman/ANG Staff Writer

Medical marijuana advocates declared victory Monday after the California Highway Patrol abandoned its policy of seizing marijuana from documented patients during traffic stops.

Kris Hermes, legal campaign director for the Oakland-based Americans for Safe Access, called it one of the most significant law-enforcement developments since Californians approved a compassionate use law in 1996, as well as a vital clarification of that law following Junes U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the drugs federal ban.

Hermes said the CHPs change of heart not only should be instructive for all law enforcement in all corners of California, but might have a ripple effect beyond the Golden States borders. We are beginning to replicate our campaign in other states; probably the first will be Colorado.

ASA and six patients or caregivers filed an Alameda County Superior Court lawsuit in February to stop the CHP from seizing marijuana from people presenting city or county registry identification cards or doctors recommendations; the CHP was accepting only state-issued registry IDs, of which few had been issued. The plaintiffs claimed such seizures violated patients and caregivers right to due process of law and against unreasonable search and seizure.

In July, ASA asked the judge for a preliminary injunction against the policy, citing state Attorney General Bill Lockyers directives to law enforcement that Californias compassionate use law remained in effect despite the U.S. Supreme Court upholding the federal ban.

The CHP issued a bulletin to its field offices August 22 ordering officers to halt the seizures in cases in which the person has less than eight ounces of marijuana and presents a valid local government ID card or signed doctors recommendation. Officers can use their sound professional judgment to determine the documents validity or call the issuing agency or doctor.

CHP spokesman Lt. Joe Whiteford confirmed Monday that the change, which is effective immediately, resulted from the lawsuit and from Lockyers directives.

ASA legal affairs director Joe Elford called it a complete about-face... to a policy that we are very pleased with and a shift in attitude that will be replicated throughout the state.

He praised the CHP for doing the right thing and revising its policy to come into compliance with state law, but said the lawsuit isnt over yet--ASA will still negotiate with CHP for a final, court-approved settlement and for attorneys fees. And we expect other legal actions to follow, if need be, against other law enforcement agencies throughout the state.

Hermes predicted the new policy should result in a dramatic reduction in the number of seizures and arrests, and if this doesnt happen, the CHP will find itself back in court.

Plaintiff Anthony Bowles, 28, of San Francisco said hes a caregiver for his mother--he wouldnt say for what illness or injury she uses marijuana, citing her privacy--who was stopped by the CHP in May 2004. Despite his San Francisco medical marijuana ID card, an officer seized an eighth of an ounce of marijuana from him and cited him for possession, a charge later dismissed in court.

This is a major win for all lawful medical marijuana patients and caregivers in California...a big victory, he said Monday.

Possession charges against the other five plaintiffs--James Haggard, 62, of Redwood City; Tiffany Simpson, 23, of Richmond; Mary Jane Winters, 54, of Ukiah; Kathleen Honzik, 42, of Whitehorn; and Shannon Stansberry of Nevada County--also were dismissed in court, but none got their marijuana back. They had all been stopped for violations such as speeding, expired tags, broken tail lights and the like.

Driving under the influence of marijuana remains a crime; none of this cases plaintiffs were ever accused of that.


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