ACLU and Drug Policy Alliance Threaten to Sue Schwarzenegger For Suspending California

Press Release July 11, 2005
Media Contact

Tony Newman at (646) 335-5384 or Anjuli Verma at (831) 471-9000

SACRAMENTO – The American Civil Liberties Union and the Drug Policy Alliance threatened today to sue the Schwarzenegger administration unless it reverses its illegal suspension of California’s Medical Marijuana Program. “Governor Schwarzenegger took an oath of office to uphold state laws, not hijack them,” said Allen Hopper, an attorney with the ACLU Drug Law Reform Project. “California voters and the legislature have rejected the federal war on medical marijuana patients, and the governor must respect that judgment.”

Governor Schwarzenegger’s Director of Health Services halted the program last Friday, blocking medical marijuana patients from obtaining registration cards to which they are entitled under California law. The governor’s action came on the eve of the program’s scheduled expansion from a four-county pilot program to a statewide system designed to protect patients from arrest and seizure of their medicine.

In shutting down the program, Director of Health Services Sandra Shewry claimed the need for the state attorney general to confirm that state and county employees who continue to issue cards would not be subject to prosecution by federal authorities. The ACLU and the Drug Policy Alliance rejected this rationale as groundless. In a letter to the Director of Health Services today, the ACLU and the Alliance pointed out that state attorney general, Bill Lockyer, has already made clear in one of many recent bulletins on the issue that state officials “may not refuse to abide by the provisions of the Compassionate Use Act on the basis that this Act conflicts with federal law.” The letter further explained that the state constitution and the state’s highest court explicitly prohibit the Governor from ignoring state law, even if he believes it conflicts with federal law.

The ACLU and the Alliance previously won a federal court victory establishing that federal law stands as no barrier to California physicians who certify a patient who has legitimate need for medical marijuana. By the same logic, state officials are free to issue registration cards vouching for the legitimacy of a physician’s certification.

Attorneys general in Oregon and Hawaii similarly upheld their states’ medical marijuana programs, despite the federal laws that criminalize medical marijuana. The Oregon Attorney General’s formal statement clarified that, “Because the Act [Oregon’s medical marijuana law] remains valid state law, DHS [Oregon Department of Human Services] continues to be responsible for maintaining the issuance of the cards.”

“It is shameful that a court may have to order the state to reopen the doors to its medical marijuana program, but this will be the inevitable result unless the Governor backs down from this unfounded assault on legitimate medical marijuana patients,” said Daniel Abrahamson, Legal Affairs Director for the Drug Policy Alliance.

You can read the letter sent by the ACLU and the Drug Policy Alliance here.

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