A lawsuit has been filed in California by medical marijuana advocates accusing the government of overstepping its authority.
October 31, 2011 1:13 p.m.
Eugene Davidovich, Americans for Safe Access, Community Liaison, San Diego Area
Related Story: Feds Sued Over Medical Marijuana
CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. It's Monday, October thirst. Our top story on Midday Edition, early this month, U.S. attorneys across the state, issued an order for commercial medical marijuana dispensaries to shut down. San Diego's U.S. attorney, Laura Duffy, was one of the prosecutors issuing shutdown noticing to local dispensaries. Now a lawsuit has been filed in California accusing the U.S. Department of Justice of over-stepping its authority. My guest, Eugene Davidovich, is the San Diego unity liaison for safe access. Welcome.
DAVIDOVICH: Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: We invited U.S. attorney Laura Duffy to be with us today, but her office says she can't comment on pending cases. So federal law is generally acknowledged to Trump state law. So if the government wants to enforce federal drug laws, how can you legally stop it?
DAVIDOVICH: What we've seen across the board is the Courts ruling in our favor in terms of allowing states to administer and control medical cannabis laws. The lawsuit that the San Diego County filed against the state in terms of the ID cards and Senate Bill 420, and that challenge they lost at the highest level. The Supreme Court refused to hear the case, and it stood that federal law did not Trump state law on this issue
CAVANAUGH: Does the crackdown violet -- I think you're using the tenth amendment in this lawsuit. How?
DAVIDOVICH: Well, I'd like to leave the legal arguments for the courtroom
DAVIDOVICH: And for the attorneys. But what it comes down to is we need safe access across the board. We have a legitimate patient with a legitimate need right here in San Diego that aren't getting access. Folks that have received permits for folks who have gone above and beyond state laws to comply, are still being faced with criminal charges when they are not the commercial operations the U.S. attorney is talking about.
CAVANAUGH: And just to be clear, I believe the argument being used, and I'm not an attorney either, is that the federal government can't coerce the state to basically not allow the medical marijuana, which the voters have affirmed here in the state and cannot coerce the state by coming in, and actually closing the dispensaries, and doing things like a specific incident in Eureka where a S.W.A.T. team shut down eye collective, and arrested its owners. Is that an example of the kind of coerciveness that this lawsuit is address something
DAVIDOVICH: It's definitely a part of it. It's also the threats against the municipalities themselves. The communities and counties trying to provide a safe, reliable means of access for patients who are being directly governed by the federal government with conspiracy prosecutions for simply creating a permitting process.
CAVANAUGH: What specifically is happening here in San Diego? What are the dispensaries being told pie the U.S. attorneys office?
DAVIDOVICH: The attorneys' office sent most landlords and collective directors and patients letters to shut down within 45†days or face criminal prosecution in federal court.
CAVANAUGH: California attorney general Kamala Harris seems to agree that some of the federal efforts have been too aggressive. She reled a statement that says in part "while there are definite ambiguities in state law that must be resolved, an overrule broad federal enforcement campaign will make it more difficult for patients to access medicine in California". Is the state joining this lawsuit?
DAVIDOVICH: Not at this time. We are hoping that Harris will continue on that same path she has been in defending states' rights, which is what all the patients here are hoping will be the case. It's unfortunate that we voluntary seen more municipalities coming forward, and challenging state law. States have the right to implement medical marijuana programs as directed by Senate Bill 420, and proposition 215.
CAVANAUGH: And that goes along the lines of the state's being able to set their own public meth standards that's right?
DAVIDOVICH: Absolutely. And that's why the medical marijuana ID cards are issued by our own health department right here.
CAVANAUGH: What do Americans for safe access hope to achieve?
DAVIDOVICH: A stop to this enforcement action. We're hoping the U.S. attorney's office backs down, and allows local municipalities to move forward with this issue, to create ordinances that protect patients against prosecutions that allow a clear path forward to be created, and create these safe and reliable means of need for medical cannabis for people who need it.
CAVANAUGH: Something U.S. attorney Laura Duffy last week, when she was interviewed by one of our reporters. She says dispensaries and collectives are actually not authorized under state law.
NEW SPEAKER: And this industry is becoming more along the line was drug trafficking in large part than it is about providing medicine for the sick. Dispensaries, they're often called, they're marijuana stores that are open store fronts. People can come in, they can receive marijuana in exchange for -- you call it a donation, a payment, whatever you want to call it. Upon that's something different than a collective. And those store stores are not authorized under state law
CAVANAUGH: And I'd like your response.
DAVIDOVICH: It's an incorrect misrepresentation. It's actually an incorrect representation of the state law. The attorney general has created for us, attorney general brown at the time, our current governor, created the attorney general guidelines, which clearly describe a collective as merely a facility that facilitates transactions between the members of that collective. Patients can associate together, cultivate expand bits together, some grow it, some don't, some make financial contributions to the collective, and they absolutely need a place to congregate. Whether that be a storefront where patients can come in and register, or through a registry directive. But all of those things are absolutely legal under state law, and have been in practice sings the mid-90s
CAVANAUGH: Some people have speculated that the reason for this crackdown or at least one of the reasons might be that medical marijuana dispensaries in California have gone too far. In other words, there are some that -- some prescriptions are a bit specious, some dispensaries themselves have a very, very very wide clientele, and the U.S. attorneys themselves noted about advertising, and the idea of having dispensaries too close to where they can be accessed by children, and schools and so forth. What is -- do you think that there's any truth in that?
DAVIDOVICH: Well, all of those things that you just mentioned are those concerns that are addressed by local regulation, that is why the medical marijuana community in San Diego has been working so hard for so many years to meat regulations to have an ordinance that actually meets the needs of the patients in the community. Including sign annual, advertising, and zoning. And we've seen counties and cities across the state where the programs have been very successful, where dispensaries specifically have brought nothing but
S to the community, including a significant decrease in crime, including bringing more traffic for neighboring businesses, and cleaning up the neighborhoods around them
CAVANAUGH: So did does it come as a surprise to you that even in those community where is there are strict regulations that indeed all of those dispensaries have also gotten letters and been threatened with closure?
DAVIDOVICH: Yes, and that's where we have an over stepping of their authority. The federal government should allow the states that make their own determinations, some allow the states to create their own regulations with regards to medical marijuana, and we see the Obama administration agree that that is the case. That folks that are following an unambiguous compliance with state law would not be prosecuted. That's why it's a big surprise. Everyone in the entire state was under the impression that the federal government was done enforcing their federal actions against legitimate patients that are following state law
CAVANAUGH: Let's bring it back down here to San Diego because we have a particular situation here where not only is the U.S. attorney basically telling the medical marijuana dispensaries to shut down, but in the City of San Diego, there is no zoning for medical marijuana dispensaries, and Jan Goldsmith says basically all the operations in the City of San Diego are illegal because of that. What happened with that? Because I know there was a medical marijuana task force that worked for a very long time trying to come up with recommendations for the city to follow in be being able to zone medical marijuana dispensaries. What happened?
DAVIDOVICH: Well, what happened was the recommendations of the medical marijuana task force were completely disregarded by the San Diego City Council. The ordinance they issued and passed was a -- not in line with what the task force was recommending. It was the compete polar opposite 67 that's what happened. Each the task force members themselves came to the City Council meeting, brought letters asking the City Council to reduce the restrictions, to create I mean enforce patients to have access in the city. That ordinance they passed was exactly that, an attempt to Eradidate access.
CAVANAUGH: Some critics have said medical marijuana advocates in the City of San Diego have actually brought some bad times on themselves now, because what they should have done is allowed those regulations to go through, and at least some dispensaries would have been legal as opposed to now where there's noregulations, and there's no zoning, and all of them are deemed illegal.
DAVIDOVICH: Well, I think hindsight is 2020. But moving forward, what we need is to create an ordinance that everybody can agree with. We need to make the medical marijuana task force come back, have the City Council debate this issue until we reach a resolution. We heard some of the mayoral candidates coming out and talking about how we need strong ladder on this issue, which was clearly lacking from our very own mayor
CAVANAUGH: Lost in this debate are the people who rely on medical marijuana to get over things that they say they need, people having chemotherapy who use medical marijuana, who have other diseases, glaucomaa. Where do they stand in all of this? They can still grow their own; is that correct?
DAVIDOVICH: Absolutely. That's correct. But patients with multiple sclerosis, and debilitating conditions don't have the means. And even out that, they just don't have room in their homes to cultivate medical cannabis. They need to be part of organizations, associations or collectives that help and join together to create the medicine that's really effective
CAVANAUGH: Kamala Harris, our Californiaeb attorney general basically said there are ambiguities in state law that must be resolved. That's part of her statement. What would you suggest that state law become? How could it become more clear so it protects the dispensaries and the patients' rights?
DAVIDOVICH: We need a state-wide dispensary model, something that everybody in every municipality can follow, something that protects the rights of patients to have access to their medicine holily, in their neighborhood
CAVANAUGH: And this lawsuit -- it's just has it just been filed?
CAVANAUGH: So how do you see this going? With any swiftness?
DAVIDOVICH: I think that this will help just like the other lawsuits to reschedule cannabis. All of it is helping to change the paradigm in the federal government to take this issue up because it is a serious issue on every national debate, this is the NO. One question that keeps coming up, medical marijuana or outright legalization, that is an issue everybody cares about in this state. 46% of the state want to legalize it. Currently the polls are showing over 70% for medical cannabis. It's a very important issue to San Diegans in particular.
CAVANAUGH: I have been speaking with Eugene Davidovich. Thank you very much.
DAVIDOVICH: Thank you Maureen.