Monday, February 06, 2006

County drops its federal lawsuit on medical marijuana, refiles with state

Sign on San Diego

The county has quietly withdrawn its lawsuit over medical marijuana from federal court, and refiled it in state court.

Medical marijuana advocates saw last week's action as an admission that the county had no standing to sue in federal court. The county, however, maintains it was a legal strategy aimed at consolidating lawsuits.

Late last year, the county Board of Supervisors voted 4-0, with Ron Roberts absent, to challenge state laws permitting use of medical marijuana.

The lawsuit filed Jan. 20 in U.S. District Court challenges Proposition 215, the voter-approved Compassionate Use Act, claiming that federal drug laws pre-empt state laws.

The suit also challenged a subsequent law passed by the state Legislature requiring counties to issue identification cards to medical marijuana users. San Diego County has refused to do so.

The county asked the federal court to decide whether both laws are valid.

The county withdrew its lawsuit from federal court Wednesday and filed another suit in San Diego Superior Court the same day.

The lawsuits are essentially the same, said County Counsel John Sansone. The new lawsuit still claims that federal laws prohibiting drug use and possession, and an international treaty governing drug policy, supersede the state laws.

However, this time the county is also suing the San Diego chapter of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, a nonprofit group advocating legalization of marijuana. The county says the move against NORML is a pre-emptive move.

NORML has threatened to sue the county over its refusal to issue identification cards to medical marijuana users. Sansone said the county anticipated NORML would file its suit in state court. “That didn't make much sense to us, to fight this battle in two courts,” he said. “This way everyone who is wanting to litigate this is in one place.”

Allen Hopper, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, said, “I think the real reason is pretty clear. They recognized there was absolutely no way they were going to be found to have standing in federal court. I think they realized that they might as well drop their suit than suffer the embarrasment of having it thrown out.”


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