Latest Drug War News

GoodShop: You Shop...We Give!

Shop online at and a percentage of each purchase will be donated to our cause! More than 600 top stores are participating!

The Internet Our Website

Global and National Events Calendar

Bottoms Up: Guide to Grassroots Activism

Prisons and Poisons

November Coalition Projects

Get on the Soapbox! with Soap for Change

November Coalition: We Have Issues!

November Coalition Local Scenes

November Coalition Multimedia Archive

The Razor Wire
Bring Back Federal Parole!
November Coalition: Our House

Stories from Behind The WALL

November Coalition: Nora's Blog

July 25, 2006 - San Diego Union Tribune (CA)

OpEd: Medical Marijuana Is Here To Stay

By Kevin Keenan, Steph Sherer and Daniel Abrahamson (Keenan is executive director of the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties. Sherer is executive director of Americans for Safe Access. Abrahamson is director of legal affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance.)

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

San Diego County has adopted an official head-in-the-sand policy on medical marijuana: Sit back and hope the courts outlaw it.

But an ostrich strategy won't work. Doctors will continue to recommend it, patients will continue to use it, and the law is clear: the judiciary will not overturn California's medical marijuana in favor of federal prohibition. To do so would violate centuries of legal precedent firmly establishing the boundaries between state and federal power.

Instead of pursuing baseless litigation, San Diego County should implement the law and work with the rest of the state to find practical ways for law enforcement and others to distinguish between legitimate patients and those who would abuse the system.

Our nation is built on the principle that states do not have to march in lock-step with all federal policy decisions. It is true that Congress could have chosen to make the federal government solely responsible for making and enforcing criminal drug laws. But it has not.

The Controlled Substances Act is the federal statute that identifies marijuana, among other drugs, as a "Schedule I" substance prohibited for all uses. The CSA explicitly provides that states can implement and enforce their own drug laws using state-level resources and manpower. Even if state laws differ from federal laws, the federal government cannot trump or invalidate them.

No doubt economic reality has much to do with this. The federal government undertakes less than 2 percent of marijuana arrests and prosecutions nationwide and has neither the resources nor the will to expand that to a full 100 percent.

Can the federal government arrest and prosecute people under federal law who use medical marijuana in California even though it is legal under state law? Yes.

Can the federal government force California to make medical marijuana illegal under state law and to arrest and prosecute medical marijuana patients? No.

The California attorney general and the attorneys general of other medical marijuana states all made this clear in legal opinions issued after the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that upheld the federal government's ability to prosecute medical marijuana patients.

Despite this, San Diego County has filed a lawsuit (at great cost to its taxpayers) against the state of California based on the mistaken theory that federal law preempts state medical marijuana laws. This doomed legal argument also serves as the rationale for San Diego's refusal to issue identification cards to medical marijuana patients as required by state law.

But the courts are not going to solve San Diego County's predicament, nor should they. It is the responsibility of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors and local government to develop a workable, fair way to limit use of marijuana to legitimate medical patients.

California voters passed these laws in response to the growing realization that science had proven the medicinal benefits of marijuana and that people whose doctors recommended it to them should not fear arrest for following that advice.

Passage of Proposition 215, California's medical marijuana initiative, did not give rise to the medical use of marijuana; it simply protects the sick and suffering from prison. Since then, the legislature has expanded Proposition 215 to include an identification card system that helps law enforcement identify legitimate patients, protecting them from arrest and allowing law enforcement to focus its resources on criminals.

San Diego County's refusal to implement that ID card system defies logic. If limiting marijuana use to legitimate patients is the goal, then why would the county be so loathe to take steps toward proper regulation?

Some critics of the card program argue that the system would not fully prevent abuse. It is true that the identification card system is not perfect, just as the 21-year age limit for purchasing alcohol is not perfect, but it is a much-needed step in the right direction.

While any system of regulation over otherwise illegal goods is open to abuse, San Diego County's refusal to implement the state-required identification card system ensures as much. Legitimate patients are denied a safe and effective means to access medicine, and police are denied a means to identify legitimate users, making appropriate enforcement virtually impossible.

Anyone who has ever had a loved one with a complicated or persistent illness knows the challenge of managing medications and especially their side-effects. Doctors and patients must have options, including medical marijuana, because when you are trying to get better, you care about science and how you feel, not politics.

It is time for San Diego County's supervisors and local officials to find compassion, pull their heads out of the sand, and start making sensible, responsible policy decisions.

For the latest drug war news, visit our friends and allies below

We are careful not to duplicate the efforts of other organizations, and as a grassroots coalition of prisoners and social reformers, our resources (time and money) are limited. The vast expertise and scope of the various drug reform organizations will enable you to stay informed on the ever-changing, many-faceted aspects of the movement. Our colleagues in reform also give the latest drug war news. Please check their websites often.

The Drug Policy Alliance
Drug Reform Coordination Network
Drug Sense and The Media Awareness Project

Working to end drug war injustice

Meet the People Behind The U.S. Sentencing Guidelines

Questions or problems? Contact