"The 4th District Court of Appeal for California issued a published opinion today ruling that federal law does not preempt California’s medical marijuana law. San Diego County had filed a suit in Feb. 2006 challenging the validity of the state identification card program for medical marijuana patients, and also challenging the whole foundation of the state’s medical marijuana law, put in place by voters in 1996 through Prop. 215. The suit was rejected at the superior court level, but San Diego County decided to appeal it. Today the appeals court rejected that appeal, saying that federal law — the Controlled Substances Act — does not preempt California law, because the CSA itself “signifies Congress’s intent to maintain the power of states to elect to serve as a laboratory in the trial of novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country by preserving all state laws that do not positively conflict with the CSA.”
I’m not sure that really was Congress’s intent when passing the CSA, which updated previous drug laws, back in 1974. I do know that when some congressmen back then questioned the placement of marijuana on Schedule I, the most prohibitory of the four schedules, which disallows even medical use, they were told it was simply for convenience, that future placement would be determined scientifically rather than politically. Of course that never happened, even when the the Drug Enforcement Administration’s chief administrative law judge in 1988, after several years(!) of hearings, ruled that it was improper and frivolous to keep marijuana on Schedule I. He was simply overruled by the politically appointed DEA administrator. So much for federal government respect for science.
With this ruling — I certainly hope San Diego County won’t waste any more of its taxpayers’ money appealing it to the California Supreme Court — counties have no excuse for not implementing the medical marijuana patient ID card system mandated by state law. Orange County has taken some halting steps in this direction, but it’s unclear just where that process is.
Here’s a link to the 4th District’s decision, and to comments by Americans for Safe Access, a patient advocacy group. And just for good measure, the amicus brief from the city of San Diego, which disagreed with the county, and the apellate court’s decision in a Garden Grove case, in which the city was ordered to return confiscated cannabis to a legitimate patient. If you want a lot more detailed background, I can humbly (sure!) recommend my own book, “Waiting to Inhale: The Politics of Medical Marijuana,” although since it was published in 2001 it doesn’t have all the most up-to-date information. If you e-mail me I’ll arrange to sell you a copy at less than Amazon’s price.