Costa Mesa lawyers praise marijuana ruling

A federal appeals court decided Monday that cities do not violate the federal rights of the disabled when they shut down medical marijuana dispensaries — a ruling praised by Costa Mesa's legal counsel.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit by severely disabled Californians who were authorized by their physicians to use marijuana for medical purposes.

The patients sued the cities of Costa Mesa and Lake Forest, charging that the cities' attempts to close dispensaries violated the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination.

But the 9th Circuit said the law does not protect the use of drugs banned by the federal government.

"We recognize that the plaintiffs are gravely ill," Judge Raymond C. Fisher, a Clinton appointee, wrote for the court.

Huntington Beach resident Marla James is one plaintiff on the lawsuit and is wheelchair bound and legally blind. She said she is restricted from growing her own marijuana because of her disabilities.

"Growing marijuana, even though it's a weed, is not an easy task," said James, who is the director of Orange County chapter of Americans for Safe Access.

James had one of her legs amputated after a bout with flesh-eating bacteria. As a result of constant pain, she was prescribed OxyContin, but said she didn't want to be on such an addictive drug.

"It was horrible. It did horrible things to my body," she said. "I could not comprehend anything. Getting off OxyContin was very slow and very painful. The pain that I had in the flesh-eating bacteria was less painful than getting off OxyContin.

"It's really a sad thing when they're saying what I'm doing is illegal drug use."

But an attorney with Jones & Mayer, the firm retained by the city of Costa Mesa, said the decision vindicates what they have been fighting for on behalf of the city.

"This opinion is a significant victory for the city," said Litigation Department Manager Jim Touchstone.

Although he wouldn't comment on the direction the city would head with the decision, he said that he and fellow colleague Krista Jee fought to prove that cities are not in violation of the ADA.

In the decision, Fisher said Congress has made clear that ADA provides no protection for medical marijuana use.

James said she plans to appeal.

"We're going to keep fighting the fight," she said. "This isn't over."

—Reporters from the Los Angeles Times also contributed to this report.

Twitter: @lawilliams30

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