Back to News & Commentary

Federal Court Rules Against Bush Administration's Subversion of California's Medical Marijuana Laws

Jag Davies,
Drug Law Reform Project
Share This Page
August 29, 2008

For the first time, a court has recognized that a concerted effort by the federal government to sabotage state medical marijuana laws violates the U.S. Constitution.

While California’s landmark 1996 medical marijuana law has mostly been upheld by the state’s courts, after the U.S. Supreme Court’s unfavorable ruling in 2005 it appeared the sun may have been setting on medical marijuana reform in the federal courts.

The outlook is a whole lot brighter after last week’s ruling by U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel of San Jose, which denies a Bush administration request to dismiss a lawsuit by Santa Cruz city and county officials and the Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana (WAMM), which was raided by federal agents in 2002.

More significantly, in a first-of-its-kind ruling, the court held that the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution bars the federal government from targeting the enforcement of federal drug laws to intentionally subvert state medical marijuana laws. The court ruled that the 10th Amendment would be violated if the ACLU can prove, as it has alleged, that a calculated pattern of selective arrests and prosecutions by the federal government has been intended to render “California’s medical marijuana laws impossible to implement and thereby forcing California and its political subdivisions to recriminalize medial marijuana.”

This ruling is especially significant because it recognizes the constitutional significance of the fact that the federal government has gone out of its way to arrest and prosecute some of the most legitimate doctors, patients, caregivers and dispensary owners that are working most closely with state and local officials.

WAMM, for instance, is widely recognized as a model medical marijuana patients’ collective. WAMM is fully supported by the City and County of Santa Cruz, and functions in strict compliance with city and county ordinances and California state law. (In response to the 2002 arrest of WAMM’s founders, Mike and Valerie Corral, the city of Santa Cruz even allowed WAMM to hold its regular meeting to distribute marijuana to its members on the steps of City Hall.) Founded over 15 years ago, WAMM has operated solely on a not-for-profit basis — it has not sold or purchased marijuana but rather its members have collectively cultivated their medicine and provided it free of charge to approved collective members with a physician’s recommendation. WAMM includes 250 seriously ill men and women, with more than 80 percent of members suffering from a life-threatening illness. Health permitting, members have been encouraged to contribute volunteer hours to the organization by working in the garden, assisting with fundraising, volunteering in the office, or helping each other with informal hospice care.

The ACLU lawsuit alleges that in addition to targeting medical marijuana providers who cooperate most closely with municipalities, the defendants — U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey, DEA agents involved in the raid of WAMM, and administrators of the DEA and Office of National Drug Control Policy — also violated the U.S. Constitution by (1) threatening to punish California physicians who recommend marijuana; (2) threatening government officials who issue medical marijuana identification cards; and (3) interfering with municipal zoning plans.

So, we have a potential legal breakthrough on our hands. This ruling, combined with the issuance of medical marijuana guidelines this week by California Attorney General Jerry Brown, and the passage of a medical marijuana employment rights bill in the California legislature earlier this month, provide further indication that California’s medical marijuana law — which brings the state $100 million each year in tax revenue — is continuing to gain legitimacy in spite of the Bush administration’s best efforts.

Let’s hope that federal officials quit playing politics with medical science by bringing a merciful end to their cruel and counterproductive war on sick and dying medical marijuana patients.

Learn More About the Issues on This Page