DMV changes medical marijuana policy

Medical marijuana advocates are declaring victory now that the California Department of Motor Vehicles has amended its policies to say 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,” but doesn’t by itself constitute grounds for withdrawal of a driver’s license.

Oakland-based Americans for Safe Access sued the DMV last November on behalf of Rose Johnson, 53, of Atwater, whose driver’s license was revoked because of her status as a medical-marijuana patient despite a clean 37-year driving record. The DMV had said her license wasn’t renewed “because of…[an] addiction to, or habitual use of, [a] drug,” thereby rendering her unable to safely operate a motor vehicle. The DMV reinstated her license in January.

“The new DMV policy is a significant departure from how the agency approached medical marijuana in the past,” ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford said in a statement issued today. “Drivers will no longer have their licenses suspended or revoked simply because of their status as medical marijuana patients.”

ASA said DMV had been suspending or revoking medical marijuana patients’ driver’s licenses in at least eight counties, including Alameda, Butte, Contra Costa, Glenn, Merced, Placer, Sacramento, and Sonoma, calling these drivers drug abusers without presenting evidence to support the claim.”This DMV policy change represents a victory for patients, which puts us closer to full implementation of California’s medical marijuana law,” Elford said today.

The new guidelines say a DMV hearing officer “should inquire as to the frequency of use, time of use, and the relationship to driving as they would with the use of other prescribed medications” when dealing with medical marijuana use. DMV issued the revised policy last month and will advise its Driver Safety workers of the change in a training session tomorrow, according to ASA.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.