DMV Sued Over Medical Marijuana

DMV Sued Over Medical Marijuana
Posted by CN Staff on February 15, 2009 at 21:23:46 PT
By Maura Dolan 
Source: Los Angeles Times
Reporting from San Francisco -- When Matt Vaughn was pulled over for speeding on Interstate 5 in Northern California early on a Sunday morning, he had a bag of marijuana on the passenger seat.The California Highway Patrol officer smelled the weed, searched the car, took the marijuana and pipe and gave Vaughn a sobriety test, which he passed. An angry Vaughn showed the officer his doctor's recommendation to use marijuana for glaucoma. The officer was unimpressed.
"He said, in Glenn County, they don't recognize those kinds of things," said Vaughn, 55, who has a long pony tail, mustache and beard. "He was not very friendly about it."The 2005 incident cost Vaughn a speeding ticket, his ounce and a quarter of pot and his driver's license -- and nine months of fighting the California Department of Motor Vehicles -- before he prevailed.As a result of that and other encounters involving medical marijuana, an advocacy group has sued the California Department of Motor Vehicles, asking for a written policy that says medical marijuana should be treated the same as prescription drugs.The suit contends that the DMV has a pattern of investigating and suspending the driver's licenses of people who use pot on the recommendation of their doctors."It happens a disturbing amount," said Joseph D. Elford, chief counsel for Americans for Safe Access, which promotes legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes and research.Elford said his Oakland-based group has received complaints about the DMV from patients in several Northern and Central California counties, though Elford and others involved in the issue said they were unaware of any Southern California cases.The DMV can obtain medical information about someone if an investigation is launched into the person's fitness to drive.In Vaughn's case, the CHP officer sent the DMV a report about Vaughn, along with a medical journal article saying marijuana was not the choice drug for treating glaucoma.In another case, Rose Johnson, 53, the plaintiff named in the pending suit used medical marijuana for back and neck injuries and lost her license after a DMV worker referred her for an investigation. The worker had noted that Johnson had difficulty moving when she went in to renew her driver's license. Despite a perfect driving record, the DMV cited the Merced woman's marijuana use last year in revoking her license, the suit said.Elford said the DMV also learns of medical marijuana patients from law enforcement officers who ask drivers if they have used drugs in the 24 hours before a traffic stop.Medical marijuana users answer truthfully, thinking they are protected by law, Elford said. He added that he does not advise them to lie because defrauding a police officer is a misdemeanor in California.State officials said in interviews that it is not their policy to take away licenses from marijuana patients.DMV spokesman Armando Botello declined to comment on the lawsuit and said the office does not keep statistics on the number of licenses yanked as a result of medical marijuana. But he indicated the instances were probably isolated.Although medicinal weed is not automatic grounds for revoking a license, conditions that impair safe driving, including "poor judgment, aggressive behavior, impaired decision making, slowed motor functions, impaired coordination . . . and drowsiness" could result in license removal, he said.During a DMV investigation, the driver's doctor is asked to fill out a five-page questionnaire about the patient's medical condition and drug use.Jaime Coffee, a spokeswoman for the CHP, said its policy is to comply with the state medical marijuana law, a policy that Americans for Safe Access won in an earlier suit. Officers are instructed not to confiscate marijuana from an unimpaired driver with a valid doctor's recommendation, Coffee said. She speculated that Vaughn's marijuana might have been confiscated because he did not have his license with him.Vaughn, who operates a medical marijuana collective out of his home, said he had left the license in another pair of pants, had not smoked in several hours and was admittedly grouchy."I actually am very aggressive when I am not smoking," he said.In fact, he was just about to pull off the freeway to smoke and rest on his long drive from Placerville to Vancouver, Wash., to visit family, he said.Vaughn said he did not yell at the officer, "but I am able to push their buttons." The officer called for backup, and two other CHP cars arrived. After he was cited, Vaughn went home for more marijuana for his journey.Vaughn does not work outside the marijuana collective."Essentially what I make is what I smoke, which is quite a bit," he said. "Generally my wife is the regular person with jobs and insurance."Not even marijuana advocates recommend driving under pot's influence. California has convicted drivers of being under the influence of marijuana when they failed field sobriety tests, Elford said.Studies on the effects of marijuana on driving have reached varying conclusions. Some found that experienced users are likely to compensate for their deteriorated state by being especially cautious -- but are prone to getting lost -- while others showed significant debilitating effects from THC, the main mind-altering ingredient in marijuana.Vaughn said he drives well when he smokes but conceded that cannabis affects people differently.After nine months of appealing the suspension of his license, Vaughn contacted Elford, who filed suit. Before trial, the DMV agreed to return his license and his marijuana and his pipe. Vaughn said his DMV record had incorrectly shown a conviction for driving under the influence."How it got there was never discerned," he said.Times researcher Robin Mayper contributed to this report.Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)Author:  Maura Dolan Published: February 16, 2009Copyright: 2009 Los Angeles TimesContact: letters latimes.comWebsite: Medical Marijuana Archives
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Comment #3 posted by BGreen on February 16, 2009 at 09:21:07 PT
Tom Allman believes and says anything
Anonymous letters and emails could be coming from anybody, INCLUDING deputies and other people with an agenda to pursue.Why would fourth and fifth generation residents have any reason to remain anonymous when directly asking for your help? That is highly unlikely and implausible.I don't believe the validity of these letters and I don't believe a word Sheriff Tom Allman says.The Reverend Bud Green
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Comment #2 posted by FoM on February 16, 2009 at 09:10:20 PT
OT: Illegal Growers Won't Be Ignored
Another Voice - Illegal Growers Won't Be IgnoredBy Tom AllmanFebruary 16, 2009Over the past 8 months, I have received an increasing number of anonymous letters and e-mails regarding commercial marijuana growers and the abusive attitudes they exhibit to their neighbors. These "in-your face" growers bully their way into usually quiet neighborhoods -- urban and rural. There are 4th and 5th generation Mendocino County residents who fear for their property and lives and are planning to move. The law abiding residents of our county have a right to be free from this kind of abuse. A recent letter to the editor (Feb. 5 Mendocino County Observer) is a chilling but vivid example of what is happening. The fact that we have growers with no pride of ownership in our County is a personal concern of mine and apparently to the letter writers as well. I am very appreciative of the citizens who remind us how illegal growing negatively affects our County:Effects such as:Environmental damage to hillsides, trees and watersheds;Theft of water or waste of water;Illegal use of pesticides and herbicides;The killing and maiming of wildlife;The false economy produced by absentee growers. The anonymous letters I receive each week beg for a more efficient way to enforce existing laws and arrest abusive growers. Few if any letters describe legitimate medical marijuana grows. This year I have focused the resources of my office on two types of illegal growers: first-time growers who believe they can legally grow marijuana here for any reason; and, the transient growers who live in our county from April until October then leave. I have one message for these people who thumb their noses at our laws and our citizens: we will find you, we will arrest you, we will eradicate your plants and seize your assets, and we will seek your prosecution to the fullest extent of the law.Our nation, our state and our county are in the midst of a financial crisis. Law enforcement is not immune. Our resources are stretched thin, and it may seem that now is a good time to exploit these perceived weaknesses. Illegal growers will find out soon that our criminal justice system is alive and well. Over 240 commercials growers were arrested in 2008, and over 364,000 plants were eradicated. Legitimate Medical Marijuana grows were left alone. Our deputies entered 154 medical gardens last year and left without eradicating a single plant because these patients were growing within the boundaries of the law and produced the necessary documentation upon request. There is progress in accepting legitimate medical marijuana. I understand the concern that legitimate patients have and I truly appreciate the fact that legitimate growers often report the abuse of our medical marijuana laws. As your elected Sheriff, I will continue to respect the rights of legitimate medical marijuana patients. But, please do not expect the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office to ignore possible commercial operations. Evidence showing a commercial operation will lead to arrests and the forfeiture of assets. These investigations will happen by design and not by accident. I appreciate the fact that a truly respectful, legitimate medical marijuana grower will not be involved in environmental and economic damage. The most recent letter, from the "Wildlife of the Burns Creek Watershed," is an eye-opening reminder of the environmental damage that results from many, if not all, commercial growing operations. Mendocino County's role in framing the medical marijuana debate has made it unique among counties. Some see us as leaders; others make us the brunt of jokes. I prefer to see us as concerned individuals trying to chart a course through a framework of confusing and sometimes conflicting laws. As your elected Sheriff, I am committed to work with all citizens who have the desire improve the quality of life in our County. That includes balancing the legitimate rights of medical marijuana patients with the need to enforce prohibitions against illegal marijuana cultivation, transportation, distribution and sales.By working together, we will make our county a better place. Tom Allman is Sheriff in Mendocino County.Copyright: 2009 Ukiah Daily Journal
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Comment #1 posted by bhones on February 16, 2009 at 06:27:55 PT:
Marijuanu needs to be just like the medications on TV; I was watching a comercial for Ambien (sleep medication) that after stating side affects they said "until you know how this medication affects you use cation while driving or operation heavey machinery." This makes more sence. some may not be able to drive but most can 30min after smoking.
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