SACRAMENTO - The California Highway Patrol has stopped confiscating all medical marijuana during traffic stops, following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that left intact a state law allowing the drug to be used for medicinal purposes.

The policy change was a victory for medical marijuana advocates, namely the Oakland-based Americans for Safe Access, which sued the CHP and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger earlier this year to have the practice stopped.

The group's executive director, Steph Sherer, said it would send a "clear message" that patients' rights need to be protected.

"Our hope is this will ripple around the state," she said.

CHP officers were told in an Aug. 22 bulletin of the new policy, which now allows patients traveling on state highways to have as much as 8 ounces of marijuana if they had a certified user identification card or written approval from a physician.

CHP spokesman Lt. Joe Whiteford, who said patrol officers now "have got their marching orders," noted that law enforcement officials were initially confused about how to interpret a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

In June, the court ruled that users of medical marijuana in a dozen states, including California, are not shielded from federal prosecution. However, the justices did not rule on the state's 1996 law that legalized medical marijuana.

Advocates have long complained that police officers continued to confiscate medical marijuana even after the law took effect. Law enforcement officials, however, had maintained that they would continue the practice until the state issued identification cards for legitimate cannabis users.

California health officials began issuing identification cards earlier this year, but patients have been slow to participate. Only about 180 cards were issued.

Several cities and counties in the state started their own programs. San Francisco, for example, has about 8,000 registered cannabis users.na