Court Rejects County’s Challenge; Upholds Medical Marijuana Identification Program
The California Court of Appeals, Fourth District, ruled yesterday that the state law requiring counties to issue identification cards to authorized medical marijuana patients is constitutional and must be implemented by the counties.
The suit had been brought by the County of San Diego against San Diego NORML and the state of California, alleging the provisions included in SB 420, adopted by the legislature in 2003, were preempted by federal law and were therefore unconstitutional. San Diego NORML had been named as a defendant, because they had publicly threatened to sue the county if they refused to implement the patient identification cards.
In a unanimous 39-page decision issued by Justice Alex McDonald, the three-judge panel undertook a thorough analysis of the legal doctrine of federal preemption, finding SB 420 was not in direct conflict with federal law, and rejected the county’s challenge.
The court found that a local government entity “charged with the ministerial duty of enforcing a statute generally does not have the authority, in the absence of a judicial determination of unconstitutionality, to refuse to enforce the statute on the basis of the (entity’s) view that it is unconstitutional.”
The court continued, “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. The identification card laws merely provide a mechanism allowing qualified California citizens, if they so elect, to obtain a form of identification that informs state law enforcement officers and others that they are medically exempted from the state’s criminal sanctions for marijuana possession and use. ”
The court further ruled, “Congress does not have the authority to compel the states to direct their law enforcement personnel to enforce federal laws.”
San Diego NORML is represented in this matter by Adam B. Wolfe, Esq., staff counsel with the ACLU Drug Law Reform Project out of Santa Cruz, CA. August 1, 2008