A Superior Court in California has ordered the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to pay $69,400 in attorneys’ fees to a medical marijuana advocacy organization.
The Merced Superior Court on Thursday ruled the DMV must reimburse Americans for Safe Access (ASA). The attorneys’ fees award results from a lawsuit filed by ASA in November 2008 against the DMV for its policy of unjustly revoking drivers’ licenses of qualified medical marijuana patients.
The suit was filed on behalf of Rose Johnson, a 53-year-old medical marijuana patient from Atwater, whose license was revoked by the DMV because of her status as a patient. The DMV has since established a formal policy (in February 2009) to treat medical marijuana like any other prescription drug.
“As a result of the Plaintiff’s efforts, there was a substantial change in the DMV regarding its policy and behavior in the treatment of medical marijuana,” last week’s ruling found. “Administrative officers were operating under the inaccurate and mistaken belief that medical marijuana use was illegal.”
“The Plaintiff [appeared]to be the catalyst in effectuating change in both the DMV’s formal, public policy on the subject and the agency’s adherence to the policy,” Merced Superior Court Judge Brian L. McCabe concluded in his ruling.
|Joe Elford, Americans for Safe Access: “The new DMV policy is a significant departure from how the agency approached medical marijuana in the past”|
”The new DMV policy is a significant departure from how the agency approached medical marijuana in the past,” said ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford, who represented Johnson in her claim against the DMV. “We expect it will help prevent further unwarranted license suspensions and revocations by the DMV.”
As part of the policy change earlier this year, the DMV Driver Safety Procedure Manual was revised to include reference to medical marijuana, stating that “use of medicinal marijuana approved by a physician should be handled in the same manner as any other prescription medication which may affect safe driving.”
The manual states the existence of medical marijuana use “does not, in itself, constitute grounds for a license withdrawal action.”
Despite Johnson’s exemplary driving record — never having caused an accident in 37 years! — the DMV revoked her license in July 2008. According to the DMV, Johnson’s license was revoked “because of… [an]addiction to, or habitual use of, [a]drug,” thereby rendering her unable to safely operate a motor vehicle, even though no evidence existed to substantiate this claim.
In January, as a result of the lawsuit and a passed driving test by Johnson, the DMV reinstated her license and issued the new policy before the case had a chance to go to trial in Superior Court.
Advocates say the DMV policy of suspending and revoking licenses of medical marijuana patients was widespread, occurring in at least eight California counties, including Alameda, Butte, Contra Costa, Glenn, Merced, Placer, Sacramento and Sonoma.
License revocations by the DMV, which have been based on a person’s status as a medical marijuana patient, are often rationalized by calling drivers “drug abusers,” despite providing no evidence to support the claim, and despite the fact that marijuana was being legally used with a doctor’s recommendation.