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Judge seizes medical marijuana at the request of government

The Associated Press
Thursday May 24, 2001

SAN FRANCISCO — A federal judge said Wednesday the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision barring medical marijuana prompted him to order that an ounce of cannabis seized from a California man be forfeited. 

It is believed to be among the first such forfeiture since the nation’s highest court ruled last week that sick and dying patients cannot claim a medical necessity defense to marijuana possession in a case testing California and eight other states’ medical marijuana laws. 

At the government’s request, U.S. District Court Judge Charles Legge ordered forfeited one ounce of marijuana seized two years ago from a Humboldt County man who was arrested during a traffic stop. Under California law, Christopher Giauque had a doctor’s recommendation to smoke marijuana to relieve chronic back pain. 

County prosecutors seized the marijuana but did not charge Giauque for any drug-related offense. A county judge ordered Sheriff Dennis Lewis to return the marijuana. Lewis refused, citing federal law that prohibits him from dispensing marijuana. 

Humboldt County Superior Court Judge Bruce Watson ordered the sheriff held in contempt of court and the sheriff sued the federal government, asking it to intervene on his behalf. 

Mark T. Quinlivan, the Justice Department’s main lawyer in the case before the Supreme Court, flew from Washington to California to argue for the seizure of Giauque’s marijuana. He declined to say whether the government’s position on Giauque’s case or his appearance here was an indication of whether the Bush administration is going to begin cracking down on medical marijuana use. 

Even so, he said the judge’s decision was correct in light of the high court’s ruling. 

“You presume a U.S. district judge is aware of the current state of the law,” he said after the brief hearing. 

The high court said there is no exception in a federal anti-drug law for the medical use of marijuana. Some patients say the drug eases their pain from cancer, AIDS and other illnesses or pains. 

The court ruled that clubs formed to distribute the drug to approved patients cannot claim “medical necessity” as a reason to break a 1970 law regulating the drug as a controlled substance, and said patients cannot claim that as a defense. 

Giauque’s attorney, J. Bryce Kenny, said he would ask the judge to reconsider his decision. He added that the high court’s ruling hurt his case. 

“Let’s put it this way, the U.S. Supreme Court certainly hasn’t helped our position,” Kenny said. 

Voters in Arizona, Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Washington have approved ballot initiatives allowing the use of medical marijuana. In Hawaii, the Legislature passed a similar law and the governor signed it last year. 

The case decided Tuesday is Humboldt County v. Giauque, C01-1279 CAL.