Medical Marijuana Patients Serve San Diego Supervisors a Taste of their Own Medicine

January 24, 2006 12:00 am

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National Patient Advocacy and Civil Liberties Groups Announce Federal Court Intervention in Supervisors’ “Doomed” Lawsuit

SAN DIEGO – The American Civil Liberties Union, Americans for Safe Access (ASA) and the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) announced today that they would intervene in the San Diego County Board of Supervisors’ federal lawsuit seeking to overturn California’s Compassionate Use Act.

The Act permits patients to use, and doctors to recommend, medical marijuana under the explicit protection of state law. The groups plan to file a motion to intervene in federal court on behalf of medical marijuana patients and their doctors by the end of the day.

“The stakes are too high for medical marijuana patients to depend on Governor Schwarzenegger and the Department of Health Services to defend their interests in court,” said Allen Hopper, an attorney with the ACLU Drug Law Reform Project. “These patients and their doctors need to know that someone is looking out exclusively for their interests.”

At this morning’s Board of Supervisors meeting, local medical marijuana patients demanded that the Supervisors drop their lawsuit and begin issuing medical marijuana identification cards in compliance with state law. The ACLU, ASA and DPA joined patients in criticizing the Supervisors’ lawsuit as baseless and promised at the meeting to immediately intervene in federal court unless the Supervisors complied with the demands. The Supervisors refused.

“The Supervisors have turned a deaf ear to the pleas of sick and dying people, and now they have shown that they are equally willing to ignore the law,” said Joe Elford, chief counsel for ASA.

According to a letter the groups delivered to the Supervisors at this morning’s meeting, the law is clear that the county’s lawsuit will soon be thrown out of federal court based on the fact that San Diego County has no standing to sue the state in federal court.

“The Supervisors’ decision to continue with the suit shows blatant disregard for the law and the will of their constituents,” said Margaret Dooley of DPA. “We expect the court to dismiss their lawsuit in short order.”

Several individuals are represented by the ACLU, ASA and DPA in today’s motion to intervene. Among them are:

  • Wendy Christakes, a 29-year-old mother and San Diego resident who has been using medical marijuana since December 2003 to treat chronic pain resulting from herniated discs and the removal of a portion of her backbone;
  • Pamela Sakuda, a 58-year-old stage-four rectal cancer patient who uses medical marijuana on the recommendation of her physician; and
  • Norbert Litzinger, the husband and legal primary caregiver of Pamela Sakuda.

In addition to patients, the groups are representing Dr. Stephen O’Brien, who specializes in HIV/AIDS treatment in Oakland, California. Many of Dr. O’Brien’s patients experience AIDS-related nausea, wasting syndrome and severe pain, and find prescription drugs to be ineffective in reducing their symptoms. Dr. O’Brien believes that a significant subset of his seriously ill patients benefit from the medical use of marijuana.

“Medical marijuana patients are running out of time,” said Christakes. “While the Supervisors play politics and waste our money on frivolous lawsuits, we have to find a way to survive.”

Today’s demand letter is available online at: /drugpolicy/medmarijuana/23581lgl20060123.html

An initial letter sent by the ACLU to the San Diego Board of Supervisors on January 19, 2006 is available online at: /drugpolicy/medmarijuana/23565lgl20060119.html

The legal complaint filed by the San Diego Board of Supervisors is available at: /drugpolicy/medmarijuana/23911lgl20060120.html

The groups’ motion to intervene and memorandum in support is available at:

Hopper’s declaration in support of the motion to intervene is available at:

Elford’s declaration in support of the motion is available at:

DPA Legal Director Daniel Abrahamson’s declaration in support of the motion is available at: /drugpolicy/medmarijuana/23918lgl20060124.html

Medical marijuana patient and hospice founder Valerie Corral’s declaration in support of the motion is available at: /drugpolicy/medmarijuana/23920lgl20060124.html

A July 2005 ACLU and DPA letter, which is an exhibit to the motion, to Governor Schwarzenegger and California Department of Health Services Director Sandra Shewry regarding implementation of the state’s medical marijuana card program is available at: /drugpolicy/medmarijuana/23923lgl20060124.html

The proposed answer to the motion is available at: /drugpolicy/medmarijuana/23921lgl20060124.html

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