ACLU and Others Step In To Defend California’s Medical Marijuana Law From Rogue Counties’ Attack

July 7, 2006 12:00 am

Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States

The Law is Clear: States Can Allow Medical Marijuana Even if the Federal Government Disagrees, Say Groups


SAN DIEGO – The American Civil Liberties Union, Americans for Safe Access and the Drug Policy Alliance moved today to intervene in a lawsuit brought by several California counties that seeks to overturn the state’s Compassionate Use Act, which makes medical marijuana legal for patients with a doctor’s recommendation.

“These counties are putting politics over the lives of seriously ill patients,” said Allen Hopper, an attorney with the ACLU Drug Law Reform Project. “The law is clear: federal marijuana laws do not trump California’s ability to make medical marijuana legal under state law. County officials are thumbing their noses at state law and in the process harming patients and creating unnecessary chaos and confusion.”

San Diego, San Bernardino and Merced counties argue in a lawsuit filed in state court that federal laws prohibiting all use of marijuana invalidate state laws that allow qualified patients to use medical marijuana. The ACLU, Americans for Safe Access (ASA) and the Drug Policy Alliance (the Alliance) filed legal papers today seeking to intervene in the proceedings on behalf of a number of medical marijuana patients and patients’ groups, as well as their caregivers and doctors.

The lawsuit, initially brought by San Diego County and later joined by San Bernardino and Merced counties, challenges state laws that permit patients to use, and doctors to recommend, medical marijuana under the explicit protection of state law. The lawsuit further challenges the state’s Medical Marijuana Program Act, which calls for the implementation of an identification card program that would allow police and others to identify legitimate medical marijuana patients.

The groups maintain that state medical marijuana laws are not preempted by the federal ban on medical marijuana. While the federal government is free to enforce its prohibition on medical marijuana, even in states, such as California, that permit its use, all states remain free to adopt and implement policies of their own design – an opinion shared by the California Attorney General’s office.

Although the California Attorney General plans to defend the state’s medical marijuana statutes from the counties’ challenge, the groups are intervening in order to assure adequate representation of those most impacted: medical marijuana patients, and their caregivers and doctors.

“The counties’ actions seriously threaten the health, well-being and in some cases, lives of many, many Californians,” said Wendy Christakes, a medical marijuana patient and ASA member represented by the groups. “The county supervisors are playing politics while we struggle to survive. They should be ashamed.”

In addition to Christakes, the groups represent Pamela Sakuda, William Britt and Yvonne Westbrook, Californians who use physician-recommended marijuana to treat medical conditions and their side-effects, including chronic pain and sciatica, multiple sclerosis, rectal cancer, epilepsy and post-polio syndrome. The groups also represent Sakuda’s spouse and caregiver, Norbert Litzinger, as well as Dr. Stephen O’Brien, a physician who specializes in HIV/AIDS treatment in Oakland, California, and believes that many of his seriously ill patients benefit from the medical use of marijuana.

In addition to being co-counsel, ASA is also a party to the proceedings on behalf of its membership, which includes thousands of medical marijuana patients, caregivers and physicians residing in California. The Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana (WAMM) is also represented by the groups. WAMM is a medical marijuana collective and hospice located in Santa Cruz, California, whose 250 members, the majority of whom are terminally ill, use marijuana to treat a range of conditions.

In addition to entering the case, the groups are seeking a court order that would compel the counties to abide by and implement California’s medical marijuana laws. The groups are also asking the court to affirm that the state’s medical marijuana laws are not preempted by contrary federal statutes.

The groups’ legal papers are available online at:

The ACLU’s January 19, 2006 letter to the San Diego Supervisors explaining why California’s medical marijuana laws are not preempted by federal law is online at:

California Attorney General Bill Lockyer’s opinion issued to the state’s Department of Health Services affirming the validity of the state’s medical marijuana laws is available at:

Additional background on the case can be found at:

Sign up to be the first to hear about how to take action.

Learn More About the Issues in This Press Release