County errs in ignoring medical marijuana ID law

By Ryan Landers and F. Aaron Smith - Special to The Bee
Sacramento Bee (CA) March 28, 2008


Sacramento County's Board of Supervisors is openly defying state law and doing so at the expense of the sick and suffering in our county. Worse, the board is doing it under false pretenses.

At issue is the medical marijuana ID card program, mandated by a state law passed in 2003. This program is good for everyone involved: patients, law enforcement and the larger community.

An ID card has no effect on a patient's legal status that is determined by whether they meet the requirements of Proposition 215, passed by voters in 1996. All it does is allow police and others to quickly and easily identify patients. This saves police the wasted time and effort involved in arresting and processing patients who have a legal right to possess medical marijuana based on their physician's recommendation. And it spares seriously ill patients the trauma of a needless arrest and booking by state law enforcement agencies.

In other words, for Sacramento County to issue these ID cards to patients is neither an endorsement of Proposition 215 nor a change in a particular patient's legal status. It is simply a clear and helpful way of documenting what is already a legal fact.

But you would never know that from the discussion at the March 18 Board of Supervisors meeting, at which the supervisors voted 3-2 not to follow state law by issuing the cards.

Supervisors and law enforcement representatives made much of the conflict between state and federal law. This argument took two main forms, both bogus.

The first, suggested by Sheriff John McGinness and repeated by some board members, is that issuing medical marijuana ID cards would somehow endanger local law enforcement officers, who would be torn between state and federal laws. But the courts have already answered this question definitively. Recently, one of California's appellate courts ruled, "It is not the job of the local police to enforce the federal drug laws." Rejecting an appeal request, the California Supreme Court decided to let the ruling stand.

In addition to this ruling, we have extensive real-world experience from other counties. Thirty-eight are already issuing medical marijuana ID cards, and some have been doing so for years. These include large and small counties from all regions of the state, including Los Angeles, Contra Costa, Del Norte, El Dorado, Orange and Kern counties, among others.

During the hearing, McGinness told supervisors that Contra Costa County refused to implement the program based on federal law. This is false. According to that county's Web site, the ID card program was made available in 2005. Additionally, the sheriff claimed that Alameda County is only issuing the IDs under the proviso that the DEA is notified of who has obtained a card wrong again. Alameda County is following state law and is not notifying the DEA about participants in the program.

The governments and law enforcement agencies in these counties have suffered no adverse consequences or federal retaliation for issuing ID cards and following state law. None. Zero.

The second bogus reason was voiced by Supervisor Susan Peters, who said issuing the cards would give patients "a false sense of security . putting Sacramento County residents in jeopardy of federal prosecution," because cardholders would still be subject to federal arrest. This assertion is false.

First, the ID card application clearly states that a card does not provide immunity from federal arrest or prosecution. No one is being told they have protection that isn't there.

Second, government statistics show that federal authorities make only 1 percent of all marijuana arrests, and 99 percent are made by local police, acting under state laws. And the few remaining federal arrests are almost all of large-scale marijuana producers and distributors, not individual patients. Indeed, federal Drug Enforcement Administration spokesman Bill Grant has stated, "We have never targeted the sick and dying."

The blunt truth is that our Board of Supervisors and some in law enforcement just don't like Proposition 215 and would rather it went away. But that does not give them the right to disregard a duly enacted state law, and their actions could expose the county to expensive and embarrassing litigation.

Ironically, this action comes as support for medical marijuana in the medical community has snowballed. Just last month, the 124,000-member American College of Physicians gave ringing support to legal protection for medical marijuana patients.

It's not too late for our county supervisors to do the right thing. Voters will be watching.

Newshawk: The Source for Medicinal Marijuana News
Pubdate: Fri, 28 Mar 2008
Source: Sacramento Bee (CA)
Page: B7
Copyright: 2008 The Sacramento Bee
Note: Does not publish letters from outside its circulation area.
Authors: Ryan Landers and F. Aaron Smith, Special to The Bee
Note: Ryan Landers is a longtime HIV/AIDS advocate who served on the attorney general's task force that helped draft the California Medical Marijuana Program Act. He resides in Supervisor Susan Peters' district in Sacramento County. Aaron Smith is the California organizer for the Marijuana Policy Project (
Cited: Sacramento County supervisors
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)

Distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

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