Nation's First Government Office to Provide Medical Marijuana Directly to Patients Established by Santa Cruz, CA City Council

November 8, 2005
Nation's First Government Office to Provide Medical Marijuana Directly to Patients Established by Santa Cruz, California City Council

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: media@aclu.org

ACLU Argues City Has Constitutional Right to Opt Out of
Enforcing Federal Medical Marijuana Prohibition Scheme

SANTA CRUZ, CA - The nation's first-ever government office tasked with providing medical marijuana directly to patients will likely be established today by the Santa Cruz City Council, the American Civil Liberties Union said.  The action is designed to test states' constitutional right to opt out of enforcing the federal government's medical marijuana prohibition scheme.

Learn more about the ACLU's effort to legalize medical marijuana >>

""This ordinance represents our city's sincere attempt to responsibly implement state medical marijuana laws,"" said Santa Cruz Mayor Mike Rotkin, a co-sponsor of the ordinance. ""We want to help medical marijuana patients obtain their medicine while also protecting them from the undesirable consequences of an unregulated black market.""

The ordinance, which gained a preliminary vote of approval two weeks ago, will have its final vote today between 3:00 and 4:30 p.m. at the Santa Cruz City Hall at 809 Center Street.  If enacted as expected, the measure will establish a city ""Office of Compassionate Use"" to provide medical marijuana to patients qualified under California state law.  The measure contains a provision protecting the city from federal law enforcement by delaying full implementation until the federal courts rule the plan legal.

The ordinance complements an ongoing legal challenge brought by the city and county of Santa Cruz and a local medical marijuana cooperative and hospice, the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana (WAMM).  The ACLU is co-counsel in the lawsuit, City and County of Santa Cruz v. Gonzales, which asserts, in part, states' constitutional authority to opt out of enforcing federal laws criminalizing medical marijuana.

""Under the Tenth Amendment, the federal government cannot force California to go along with its ill-conceived war against medical marijuana patients,"" said Allen Hopper, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU Drug Law Reform Project.  ""In order to keep California's medical marijuana law from being an empty letter, the state must be given leeway to decide how best to carry out the humanitarian mandate envisioned by its citizens.""

California passed Proposition 215, known as the Compassionate Use Act, nearly a decade ago, making medical marijuana legal under state law.  Nine other states have since enacted similar measures.

While the validity of Proposition 215 under federal law has not been questioned, confusion has arisen over how best to assure patients' access to medical marijuana since the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling this past June in Raich v. Gonzales.  The high court ruled in Raich that the federal government maintains power under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution to enforce federal marijuana laws even in states that have made medical marijuana legal under state law.  The decision left untouched individual states' medical marijuana laws, but as a practical matter leaves patients and those who provide their marijuana vulnerable to federal arrest and prosecution.

The Santa Cruz ordinance targets this discrepancy, taking a cue from a recent opinion issued by California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, which stated that ""the federal government cannot enforce federal criminal laws against state officials who merely implement valid state law - or choose not to enforce federal law.""

City and County of Santa Cruz v. Gonzales will test the ordinance's ultimate legality under federal law.  The lawsuit seeks a federal court order protecting the city and its medical marijuana patients from federal law enforcement interference.  The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration executed a paramilitary raid of WAMM facilities in 2003.

""I applaud the city's action and pray the courts ultimately find in our favor,"" said Valerie Corral, a co-founder of WAMM.  Corral is a medical marijuana patient who suffered severe head injuries in a car accident that resulted in daily grand mal seizures.  ""The sick should not be threatened with arrest for accessing needed medicine, nor the compassionate for providing it.""

The proposed ordinance is available at: www.aclu.org/drugpolicy/medmarijuana/21202leg20051107.htmlA>

Attorney General Lockyer's opinion may be viewed at: www.aclu.org/drugpolicy/medmarijuana/21194res20050715.htmlA>

Learn more about the ACLU's medical marijuana work.

 



Statistics image