California Appeals Court Upholds Medical Marijuana Cards

Yesterday a California appeals court rejected a challenge by San Diego and San Bernardino counties to a state law requiring them to issue ID cards for medical marijuana patients. The counties, which have been resisting the state policy allowing medical use of cannabis for years, argued that the Medical Marijuana Program Act of 2003, which established the current ID card system, is pre-empted by the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA). The court disagreed:

We conclude the identification card laws do not pose a significant impediment to specific federal objectives embodied in the CSA. The purpose of the CSA is to combat recreational drug use, not to regulate a state's medical practices....

Although California's decision to enact statutory exemptions from state criminal prosecution for such persons arguably undermines the goals of or is inconsistent with the CSA—a question we do not decide here—any alleged "obstacle" to the federal goals is presented by those California statutes that create the exemptions, not by the statutes providing a system for rapidly identifying exempt individuals. The identification card statutes impose no significant added obstacle to the purposes of the CSA not otherwise inherent in the provisions of the exemptions that Counties do not have standing to challenge, and we therefore conclude the limited provisions of the MMP that Counties may challenge are not preempted by principles of obstacle preemption.

Note that the decision does not address the question of whether the CSA pre-empts the laws shielding medical marijuana users from state prosecution. In the 2005 decision Gonzales v. Raich, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the power to regulate interstate commerce permits federal prosecution of patients who possess marijuana for medical use, even in states that permit such use. But it did not say the CSA requires states to prosecute them. And the following year, in Gonzales v. Oregon, it ruled that the CSA does not bar states from allowing doctors to prescribe barbiturates for patients with terminal illnesses who want to kill themselves.

Identifying statutory exceptions that permit states to experiment with different drug policies is a poor substitute for the original constitutional design, under which Congress has no authority to override such experiments. But I suppose it's better than nothing. This way, if Congress wants to obliterate the distinction between local and national matters, dictating policy choices that the Constitution reserves to the states, it has to do so explicitly. 

The appeals court decision is here (PDF).

[Thanks to Dan Berger at the ACLU Drug Law Reform Project for the tip.]

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  • Dagny T.||

    I was just watching that episode of Weeds, you know the one where they show the medical marijuana clinic and it's basically pot-topia?

    My buddy goes, "Is it really like that in California?"

    Um, no.

  • Colin||

    What does it matter if the federal government still arrests those who distribute it?

  • Antiglobalist||

    We spend so much time and energy fighting drug use, when it's easier just to cut them out of insurance and spend our drug war money on something smarter, like education.

  • Zeb||

    Or just mind your own business and leave people alone.

  • PR||

    San Diego County supervisors voted to sue the state rather than issue the ID cards after then-Gov. Gray Davis signed the legislation into law in 2003.

    So do the county supervisors do time for breaking the state's marijuana law for 5 years? Is the county civilly liable for breaking the law for 5 years?

  • Alice Bowie||

    Keep Dope Alive !!!

  • juanita||

    If marijuana was medicine they would sell it at CVS.

  • ||

    The thing that bugs me about this case is that I see no reason at all why the state should know any goddamned thing about an individual's medication.

    It's time that we simply legalized pot for everyone, and this time we need to make sure that we specifically prohibit the use of any state or local funds, records, or personnel's time to aid the feds when they come here to violate the constitution and harass our citizens.


  • ||

    The sell it at CVS here. Well, right out side anyway.

  • Pliny||

    To Dagny T. - What part of California are you in?
    In the Los Angeles area, especially in Venice or West Hollywood, the "Farmacies," as they are called, aren't that far off.
    Not as elaborate or with as glowing of a staff, but close.
    Here's an good article on Cali's number one cash crop:

  • Paul||

    The thing that bugs me about this case is that I see no reason at all why the state should know any goddamned thing about an individual's medication.

    Except the state wants to know more and more about your medication. And if certain people have their way, the government will be the sole arbiter of your medication.

    Not to mention that ten years ago, I could buy cold medicine without having to provide ID. But I hear-a-tell we're rolling this war on drugs back. Any day now.

    It's time that we simply legalized pot for everyone,

    Nice idea. But then it wouldn't be medical marijuana. Medical marijuana is much better. That way we can grind it up, put it in a pill and demand a prescription for it. Maybe even a issue special ID cards... I'm just spitballin' here.

  • Dagny T.||


    Really? Finally a reason to go to LA. =P

    I actually don't live in CA; I was referring to the contradictory situation of having legal medical mj, and cases like Gonzales v. Raich, and the above. Full disclosure: I'm originally from Vancouver, BC, where the good bud is plentiful.

  • ||

    Oh THANK GOD! Juanita's back! I missed her ever so carefully crafted thought provoking posts.
    (hey Dagny, send me some!)

  • The Bearded Hobbit||

    .. yeah, but she's using a small "j" in her name, now.. I suggest a mandantory relocation to a "your government is right" camp until she is corrected to proper capitalization ..

    .. Punctuation Flaunting Hobbit


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