September 15, 2008

Court Still Mum on Pot Appeal

By Lauren McSherry

San Bernardino County has appealed its medical marijuana lawsuit to the California Supreme Court, but it remains unclear whether the court will agree to hear the case.

The county lost its lawsuit July 25 when a court of appeals ruled that a state law requiring counties to issue medical marijuana identification cards is constitutional.

The county maintains that the state law is at odds with federal law, which criminalizes the drug.

"The lower courts haven't done what the county has asked them to do and address the conflict between state and federal law," said David Wert, county spokesman.

The state Supreme Court is expected to announce whether it will hear the case within the next 60 days, although that deadline could be extended, according to a statement from the county.

Wert said the county appealed the case upon the urging of the sheriff. Some sheriff's deputies serve on joint federal task forces, which puts them in a difficult position because they are sworn to uphold federal law, Wert said.

Lanny Swerdlow, director of the Marijuana Anti-Prohibition Project, said the county is wrong to appeal the case because the courts have ruled that the state law is not in conflict with federal law.

"They are trying to stall issuing cards," Swerdlow said. "My perspective is it's a waste of taxpayers' money, and a violation of their responsibility to enforce state law, and a failure to protect the health and welfare of San Bernardino residents."

He said other counties, such as Orange, Santa Barbara and Imperial, have issued cards.

In 1996, voters approved Proposition 215, which exempted patients and their primary caregivers from criminal liability under state law for the possession and cultivation of marijuana. In 2004, the Legislature passed the Medical Marijuana Program Act, which included establishing an identification card system, according to a statement from the Attorney General's Office.

On Aug. 25, state Attorney General Jerry Brown issued guidelines to clarify the state's laws governing medical marijuana.

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