Posted by George Pappas
1. US Supreme Court Action Affirms ASA Legal Victory and State Medical Cannabis Laws
When California qualified medical cannabis patient and ASA client Felix Kha was arrested for possessing 3/8′s of an ounce of cannabis for which he was legally allowed to possess, he couldn’t imagine the impact his effort to get his medicine returned would eventually have. Yet, on December 1st, the United States Supreme Court refused to review the case from the 4th Appellate District of California, which ordered the City of Garden Grove to return the cannabis wrongfully seized from Mr. Kha. The implications of this success by ASA’s legal team are profound: it is a solid affirmation that when states pass medical cannabis laws, as 13 have now done, police are required to abide by them, regardless of their desire to arrest and threaten patients who have done nothing wrong.
ASA receives reports from across the country of law enforcement that choose to take the law into their own hands. Many police abide by the laws the are sworn to follow, but many others are simply uneducated about the law and their responsibility under it, abusing their power to arrest innocent citizens with serious illnesses. Some, including Chiefs of Police and elected County Sheriffs, are so ideologically opposed to the laws they are required by law to protect, they do not even recognize the laws exist. On November 28, 2007, the California Appeals Court shot back with a ruling that stated “it is not the job of the local police to enforce the federal drug laws.”
“It’s now settled that state law enforcement officers cannot arrest medical marijuana patients or seize their medicine simply because they prefer the contrary federal law,” said ASA’s Chief Counsel Joe Elford, who represented Felix Kha in a case that Garden Grove appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. “Perhaps, in the future local government will think twice about expending significant time and resources to defy a law that is overwhelmingly supported by the people of our state.”
The California Attorney General issued a brief in support of Kha at the Appeals Court level, which affirmed Kha’s right to return of his medicine. The fact that the US Supreme Court felt no need to review the case helps to pave the way for progress in medical cannabis states across the country. ASA’s victory here was truly far reaching.
2. Despite Supreme Court Action, DEA Raids LA Dispensaries
The day after the US Supreme Court refused to review a case challenging California’s medical cannabis law, the DEA raided at least 3 Los Angeles area dispensaries. Liberty Bell Temple, Medical Cannabis Association, and the North East Collective were all raided by federal agents in what has been a string of raids occurring during the transition period between a November 4th Obama election and the January 20th inauguration.
ASA had received reports of one arrest during the raids, but no charges have been brought. Agents seized legal cannabis and funds belonging to the cooperatives, and may have destroyed civilian property – making the raids seem more like bully scare tactics and threats by our federal government on innocent citizens than an effort intended to have any real impact on illegal drug distribution. There had been much speculation about what actions, if any, DEA would take during this transition period, especially given the repeated statements from President-elect Barack Obama that he would end DEA raids in California, referring to them as a wasteful use of resources.
It is critical that all of you take action in response, stressing to President-elect Obama not only the problems caused by raids, but also the need for oversight and accountability of DEA, which for 8 years has had a free pass by the Bush Administration not only to undermine the values of the US Constitution, but also to threaten innocent US citizens with guns, violence, and decades in federal prison with frightening policies more attributable to that of a fascist government than of a democratic society.
3. Fresno County Issues ID Cards
Fresno County finally began issuing patient ID cards this week, as required under California’s Senate Bill 420, passed over 4 years ago. It is the result of a long fought effort by ASA staff in litigation, the Fresno ASA chapter, and other advocates, including MPP’s Aaron Smith. Finally, people living with illness who are legally qualified to use cannabis under California law can hold a state-issued ID card to show police in case of law enforcement stops. Until just a few months ago, the county had refused to issue the ID cards that would protect the sick from unnecessary arrest.
ASA activists Diana Kirby and Dana Bobbit played a critical role in convincing county supervisors to implement the program. But in the end the most important catalyst may have been the passing of ASA activist Dawn Nolan. Dawn’s cannabis was taken by hospital security during a critical health emergency. They refused to return it at a point when her life hung in the balance because Dawn had no state-issued ID card, not knowing that, after 4 years, the county still refused to issue them. Distraught over the loss of their close friend, ASA activists approached County Supervisors, furious that, had they simply implemented a law that was intended to help patients in that very situation, and which they were required by law to implement, Dawn might still be alive that day. Only then did the supervisors vote to implement the program.
Recently, in a case propagated by San Diego County, the Fourth Appeals Court in California affirmed that California counties must abide by the law and implement the state ID card program. ASA sent letters to all counties in the state who still haven’t implemented, threatening litigation if they did not comply. This led directly to a number of positive county decisions. However, not everyone saw the light, and ASA is currently seriously considering litigation against one of the hold-outs.
All Fresno residents interested in applying for the Fresno ID card should visit the County Department of Public Health website.