Anjuli Verma at (831) 471-9000 x11 or Tony Newman at (646) 335-5384
SACRAMENTO — The Schwarzenegger administration complied with demands from the American Civil Liberties Union and the Drug Policy Alliance that it reinstate California’s medical marijuana card program today. The Director of the California Department of Health Services announced yesterday evening that the card program would immediately resume.
“California’s reinstatement of the card program squarely confirms that state medical marijuana laws across the country remain completely valid and in force,” said Allen Hopper, an attorney with the ACLU. “Patients can breathe a sigh of relief today, and we commend the Attorney General’s prompt attention and resolution of this issue.”
Daniel Abrahamson, Director of Legal Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, praised the Health Department’s decision to resume the ID card program. “The Department of Health Services made the right decision and did so quickly. I commend the Department for its commitment to protect patients, and its decision to expand the ID program statewide. The Department’s program could soon become a model for other states and even the entire nation.”
The ACLU and the Drug Policy Alliance (the Alliance) sent the Governor a letter last Tuesday threatening to sue him for violating the state’s constitution unless he reinstated California’s medical marijuana card program by the end of today. Governor Schwarzenegger’s Director of Health Services halted the program almost two weeks ago, blocking medical marijuana patients from obtaining registration cards to which they are entitled under California law. The suspension of the program came on the eve of its scheduled expansion from a four-county pilot program to a statewide system designed to protect patients from arrest and seizure of their medicine.
The decision to reinstate the card program was based on an opinion from the State Attorney General, which explained that the issuance of state ID cards could not conceivably violate federal law. “The federal government’s decision to criminalize marijuana — for all purposes — does not require California to do the same,” said Jonathan K. Renner, Deputy Attorney General. The attorney general’s office also agreed with the letter submitted by the ACLU and the Alliance that, “A unilateral decision not to comply with state law, on the ground that it may be prohibited by federal criminal law, without first receiving the guidance of an appellate court, is barred by the California Constitution.”
The Director of Health Services continued to express concerns in recent news reports that information gathered by the state from medical marijuana card applicants might be subpoenaed by federal prosecutors and used against those patients. While the ACLU and the Alliance are urging the Schwarzenegger administration and Attorney General to resist every federal effort to obtain medical marijuana patient information, they agree that this issue does not warrant suspension of the card program.
“Of course I and other patients are concerned about the possibility of being arrested by the federal government, but this concern does not outweigh the value of having a state medical marijuana card for protection from California law enforcement,” said Diego Donohoe, an AIDS and cancer patient in Mendocino County on whose behalf the ACLU and the Alliance were poised to file suit had the program not been reinstated today. Mr. Donohoe uses marijuana to relieve the symptoms of AIDS and cancer. Mr. Donohoe was precluded from obtaining a state identification card when the Department suspended the program.
California joins Hawaii, Oregon and Alaska as the latest state to affirm the continued validity of its medical marijuana laws since the U.S. Supreme Court ruling last month in Gonzales v. Raich. The Supreme Court ruled in Raich that the federal government retains power under the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution to enforce federal marijuana laws, even where it is legal under state law.
“Having the security of a statewide ID card is very good news for all patients,” said Mr. Donohoe. “What I am doing is in accord with my conscience. It’s nice to know California will respect that even if the federal government does not.”
Read the ACLU and the Alliance’s letter to Governor Schwarzenegger and the Department of Health Services.
For more information on other states’ responses to Gonzales v. Raich see: http://www.aclu.org/DrugPolicy/DrugPolicylist.cfm?c=81 and www.drugpolicy.org