Advocates File Suit To Stop California Highway Patrol From Confiscating Medicinal Marijuana; ID Cards Set To Roll Out
As expected, medical marijuana advocates on Tuesday filed a lawsuit seeking a court order to stop the California Highway Patrol from confiscating marijuana from patients who have a physician's recommendation, the Sacramento Bee reports (Cooper, Sacramento Bee, 2/16). Under Proposition 215, a ballot measure approved by California voters in 1996, patients with chronic illnesses can use medical marijuana to treat pain with a recommendation from a physician (California Healthline, 2/15).
The lawsuit -- filed by seven patients and a caregiver and backed by Americans for Safe Access, a patient advocacy group -- claims that some CHP officers have told motorists that CHP "does not recognize Proposition 215" or that CHP follows the federal government's ban on marijuana (Sacramento Bee, 2/16).
According to the suit, which also names Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and Attorney General Bill Lockyer (D), CHP's "rigid policy" of seizing marijuana in all cases "causes law-abiding citizens to suffer pain, humiliation, loss of dignity, extreme anxiety and a fear of the police" (Locke, AP/Fresno Bee, 2/16).
The suit states that CHP's policy requires confiscation of marijuana "even if a ... claim is alleged" under Proposition 215.
CHP spokesperson Kelly Huston said the agency has not yet reviewed the case, but CHP's policy is to leave the decision to confiscate marijuana to "the officer's discretion, based on the circumstances surrounding the case" (Sacramento Bee, 2/16).
Tom Marshall, another CHP spokesperson, said a doctor's note cannot prevent confiscation, adding that the agency is waiting for state-authorized ID cards to be issued to medical marijuana users (AP/Fresno Bee, 2/16). "We're just continuing the policy that we've had. The change will be when those cards are issued," Marshall said (Hoge, San Francisco Chronicle, 2/16).
Joseph Elford, the attorney who filed the suit, said CHP's "official written policy" directs officers to seize marijuana and advise the motorist of a right to retrieve it through a filed motion (Sacramento Bee, 2/16).
In response to Marshall's description of CHP's policy, ASA legal director Kris Hermes said, "The law states quite explicitly that a qualified patient is someone who presents a recommendation from their physician or a voluntary identification card." He added, "It's like someone being pulled over and getting their Motrin taken away that they use to relieve their pain."
The offices of the governor and attorney general had no comment on the suit (AP/Fresno Bee, 2/16).
Elford said he expects a court hearing to be held in about six weeks (Sacramento Bee, 2/16).
In related news, the Department of Health Services announced that it will issue ID cards to people who use marijuana for medical purposes to help prevent state and local authorities from confiscating the patients' marijuana or prosecuting the patients, the Chronicle reports.
The cards will be made available through a pilot program this summer for patients in at least 10 counties, including Amador, Del Norte, Trinity, Mendocino, Marin, Shasta, Sacramento, Sonoma, Santa Cruz and Yuba. All 58 counties will be issuing cards by December, DHS spokesperson Norma Arceo said.
According to Arceo, the cards will include photographs, and the state will establish a 24-hour, toll-free number for law enforcement officials to call in order to verify ID cards.
The card program was authorized by a 2003 law, but money was not available for implementation until Schwarzenegger approved a $1.5 million startup loan, according to H.D. Palmer, deputy director of the Department of Finance. Palmer said the loan will be repaid and the program will be funded through fees charged to cardholders (San Francisco Chronicle, 2/16).