ACLU Challenges Burbank Policy of Pursuing Prosecutions of Innocent Medical Marijuana Patients

September 22, 2005 12:00 am

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City Attorney Drops Charges at the Last Minute to Avoid Jury Trial

BURBANK, CA – Confronted with the prospect of a jury trial set to begin next week, a Burbank city attorney today dropped charges against medical marijuana patient Valerie Corral. The American Civil Liberties Union, which represents Corral, was poised to challenge Burbank’s illegal policy of pursuing prosecutions against medical marijuana patients known to be innocent. Despite having dropped the charges against Corral, the city attorney continues to insist that she is guilty and has refused to order police to return her seized medical marijuana.

Med MJ Activist Valerie Corral

About Valerie Corral >>

Learn more about the ACLU’s challenge to the Drug Enforcement Agency >>

Corral, who uses medical marijuana to minimize the occurrence of seizures caused by head trauma sustained in a near-fatal car accident years ago, was detained by local police at the Burbank airport for possession of marijuana even though she presented a Santa Cruz County-issued medical marijuana card identifying herself as a legal patient under California law.

“”The police had absolutely no reason to doubt that Ms. Corral was a legal patient once they saw her identification card. It should have ended there,”” said Christina Alvarez, a staff attorney with the ACLU Drug Law Reform Project. “”Instead, they have wasted Ms. Corral’s time and the court’s time by ignoring well-established California law.””

Airport officials found a small amount of marijuana in Corral’s carry-on bag during routine screening procedures. The marijuana was contained in a plastic bag along with Corral’s Santa Cruz County-issued medical marijuana identification card. After examining her medical marijuana identification card but refusing to take any further action to confirm Corral’s legal status, the police cited her for illegal possession of marijuana, a misdemeanor offense, and seized the medication. Corral faced a $100 fine, a criminal record and the possibility of enhanced sentencing should she ever be convicted of a federal crime – a special concern for Corral, who is a high-profile activist and plaintiff in a lawsuit against the federal government’s persecution of medical marijuana patients.

The ACLU argued that California’s Compassionate Use Act protects patients like Corral from detainment and citation by local and state law enforcement for possessing marijuana if they present credible evidence of their status as legitimate medical marijuana patients. Judge Hegarty of the Superior Court of Los Angeles refused to order the return of Corral’s medical marijuana, a refusal the ACLU will immediately challenge.

“”The city of Burbank clearly has a policy of coercing qualified medical marijuana patients into pleading guilty when they are entirely innocent of wrongdoing,”” added Alvarez. “”Valerie Corral just happened to be a patient who refused to back down. We intend to challenge this policy until we gain a factual finding of innocence from the city attorney.””

California’s Compassionate Use Act, passed in 1998, allows patients with a doctor’s recommendation to legally use marijuana for medical purposes. Although several counties currently issue registration cards for the primary purpose of identifying legally qualified medical marijuana patients to law enforcement, the Compassionate Use Act does not require patients to possess such a card to be entitled to protection under the law. The California Department of Health Services planned to implement a state-wide identification card system by August 2005, however, less than 200 of the estimated 100,000 patients currently have state-issued cards.

“”A city cannot arbitrarily choose the laws it will enforce,”” said Corral. “”Every citizen must obey the law, including Burbank police officers.””

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