Lawsuit filed over refusal to issue medical marijuana card

10:00 PM PST on Monday, January 5, 2009
The Press-Enterprise

SAN BERNARDINO - About 20 people from all points of San Bernardino County met in front of a San Bernardino courthouse Monday to cheer one of the last vestiges of the counterculture -- marijuana.

They came to show support for medical marijuana activist Scott Bledsoe, of Crestline, who filed a lawsuit Monday against San Bernardino County for refusing to issue him a medical marijuana card.

Named in the petition writ as respondent is Jim Lindley, director of the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health. A petition writ such as this only seeks enforcement of a law. It does not ask for financial compensation.

The pull between state law, which allows the sale of prescription marijuana, and federal law that bans it, has muddled the issue throughout the state. Locally, Riverside and Orange counties issue cards, while San Bernardino and San Diego counties do not.

"I'm thrilled. Beyond thrilled," Bledsoe said after filing his lawsuit with his lawyer, J. David Nick. "My phone rings constantly, people thanking me and telling me their stories. My heart breaks. They fear going to jail and in San Bernardino, it's a real possibility."

Nick said the lawsuit has been referred to the Superior Court in Needles and would be assigned a hearing date within the next week.

San Bernardino County is not issuing medical marijuana cards and sheriff's deputies are instructed to arrest people who possess marijuana -- even when the users present marijuana ID cards issued by other counties, sheriff's spokeswoman Arden Wiltshire said.

In 1996, California voters approved Prop. 215, which allowed individuals to obtain marijuana for medical purposes when approved by a physician. The state Legislature in 2003 approved Senate Bill 420, which provided additional legal guidance to medical marijuana users and led to dispensaries opening around California.

Marijuana has been used in the course of treatment for anything from cancer, anorexia, AIDS, chronic pain and glaucoma.


Lanny Swerdlow, a registered nurse and director of the Marijuana Anti-Prohibition Project in Palm Springs, said he is frustrated with Riverside County as well.

Although he holds a card issued by Riverside County, Swerdlow said there is no place to purchase medical marijuana because cities continue to outlaw stores. In one instance, he said, authorities raided a collective and took all the plants.

Swerdlow said he has been trying to reach the Riverside County district attorney's office for two months, but has not received a response regarding the legal formation of a collective.

Riverside County district attorney's office spokesman John Hall said his office still refers to a 2006 report it issued that says, "The Riverside County District Attorney's Office believes that the cooperatives being considered are illegal and should not be permitted to exist within the county's borders. They are a clear violation of federal and state law, they invite more crime, and they compromise the health and welfare of the citizens of this county."

Reach Cindy Martinez Rhodes at 951-368-9521 or crhodes@PE.com

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