Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Medical marijuana advocates sue DMV

This is a sampling of political writer Josh Richman's blog, The Political Blotter. Read more and post comments at www.ibabuzz.com/politics.

Nov. 19

Oakland-based Americans for Safe Access, a medical marijuana advocacy group, sued the California Department of Motor Vehicles today on behalf of Rose Johnson, 53, of Atwater. The Merced County Superior Court lawsuit claims that despite Johnson's clean driving record — not having caused an accident in 37 years of driving — the DMV refused to renew her license in July after finding she's a medical-marijuana user and deeming that she had an "addiction to, or habitual use of, [a] drug" that renders her unable to safely operate a car.

"The only evidence introduced by the DMV to support this conclusion is the fact of Johnson's medical marijuana use pursuant to state law," the lawsuit says. "The DMV abused its discretion by suspending Johnson's license on this basis."

ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford issued a statement this afternoon saying when California voters passed Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, "they never intended to authorize the DMV to strip medical marijuana patients of their drivers' licenses. The DMV should not be in the business of revoking the licenses of drivers like Ms. Johnson simply because she is a medical marijuana patient."

And ASA says this isn't an isolated Advertisementcase: DMV has suspended or revoked licenses of medical-marijuana patients in other counties, including Alameda, Butte, Contra Costa, Glenn, Merced, Placer, Sacramento, and Sonoma.

Johnson's case seems particularly ironic because Merced County, where she lives, this past year instructed its sheriff's deputies to respect state law and not cite medical marijuana patients or seize their medicine. Yet Johnson, never accused of driving while under the influence of marijuana or anything else, was denied her license renewal by a state agency for an activity allowed by state law.

And as I write this item, having just finished an article on the state Supreme Court's impending review of Proposition 8, I wonder how much longer we'll have to keep litigating and re-litigating the effects of a medical-marijuana initiative approved by voters 12 years ago. It seems California just can't find a way to stop stepping on its own toes.

Nov. 20

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, isn't the only one taking the chair of a black caucus. Her former chief of staff, Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, D-Oakland, will lead the California Legislative Black Caucus, the first Northern California lawmaker to hold that post in more than a decade. His chairmanship of the eight-member caucus — six Assembly members, two state Senators — for the 2009-2010 term takes effect Dec. 1.

"I am honored that my colleagues have entrusted me with this incredible responsibility," he said in a statement issued yesterday. "We face enormous challenges in this state, and I look forward to addressing them with my colleagues in the coming months."

Assemblyman Curren Price, D-Inglewood, will be the caucus' vice-chair.

Assemblyman Mervyn Dymally, D-Compton, California's longest-serving African-American lawmaker, said he was "very pleased" with Swanson's election. "With his leadership, I am sure that the Caucus will lead the way in crafting a proactive agenda that will benefit all citizens in our state."

Swanson intends to hold a strategic planning session to set the caucus' statewide agenda, which will include getting more African-Americans elected to the Legislature, setting legislative priorities, and addressing the coming term's weighty economic issues — first and foremost, California's $28 billion deficit in this and the next budget years.

That package is still taking shape, but Swanson said education and job creation are the most important issues. He also wants to reign in California's prison spending, as we'll soon be spending more on prisons than on higher education; reducing this cost will involve lowering recidivism rates through better rehabilitation, he believes.

Swanson said he intended to work closely with the Latino and Asian Pacific Islander caucuses on these issues.

We're going to need some federal help, Swanson said. "Right now, we send $50 billion more to Washington than we get back in federal programs and aid.

"I am optimistic that President-Elect Obama will be more responsive to our needs than the previous administration, and I look forward to working with the new administration and our leaders in Congress on an economic strategy that benefits the state."

  • U.S. Foreclosure Filings Surge 65 Percent in April
  • Drug maker to disclose payments to doctors
  • McNerney changes medical marijuana stance
  • New California medical marijuana guidelines aim to flesh out vague law