Medical pot user sues DMV to get license back

Merced office denied renewal for Atwater woman when she disclosed marijuana use.

A 53-year-old Atwater woman will file a lawsuit against the DMV for revoking her license because she's a medical marijuana user.

Her suit seeks to reinstate her license and also affirm that other residents can't lose the right to drive simply because they use medical marijuana, approved by California voters in 1996.

Rose Johnson uses marijuana at night to help her sleep because she has back and neck injuries that began after she was rear-ended in 1990, according to the civil complaint.

She does not drive while under the influence of the drug, said her Oakland-based attorney, Joseph D. Elford, with Americans for Safe Access.

"You don't take away (someone's) license because they take Vicodin," he explained Wednesday. "If that's the DMV's position, every prescription drug user's license could be taken away."

The DMV declined to comment on the case, which was mailed overnight to the Merced County Superior Court.

Elford said he received confirmation that the complaint was received by the court in the morning.

However, by the afternoon it hadn't been filed. Elford said court officials were trying to track it down to process it. Americans for Safe Access published a copy online.

Johnson's license fight began in April when she went to renew her license. She moved slowly because of her injuries, which caused a clerk to have the department re-examine her eligibility for a license.

As requested, she gave the department a list of medications she was regularly using.

The department held a hearing June 2 and revoked her license because an officer decided her nighttime use of pot meant that she couldn't safely drive a car.

She appealed the decision. When a second hearing was held in late August, officers reaffirmed it, according to the lawsuit.

Her attorney noted that she has a "sparkling clean driving record" and has never caused a wreck.

Americans for Safe Access, nationwide medical marijuana advocacy group, brought a similar case a few years ago for Matthew Vaughn, whose license was revoked after he was arrested by the California Highway Patrol.

The DMV had revoked his license in 2005, but decided to reinstate it in June 2006, which caused the court case to become null and have no legal impact.

"In this case," Elford said, "we intend to set precedent."

Reporter Scott Jason can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or sjason@mercedsun-star.com.

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