Medical Marijuana to Get Justices' Review
June 29th, 2004
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court announced Monday that it would hear the
Bush administration's claim that federal drug agents have the authority
to arrest seriously ill Californians who use homegrown marijuana to
relieve their pain.
The court agreed to hear an appeal filed by
Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft, who contends that federal law prohibits the
use of marijuana "in all instances."
The case, to be heard in
the fall, is a clash between the strict federal drug laws and the
California initiative that allows patients to use marijuana on the
advice of their doctor. It will also determine the fate of similar laws
in eight other states.
The case focuses not on whether using
marijuana makes medical sense, but whether the federal authority
extends to regulating a plant that is grown at home.
Constitution says Congress and the federal government have the power to
regulate "commerce among the states." This is the basis for most
federal regulatory laws.
But defenders of the medical marijuana
law in California questioned how that federal power can be extended to
cover plants that are grown by a patient for his or her own use.
is a pretty far-fetched argument for them to say this involves
interstate commerce, because there is no commerce and no interstate
activity," said Oakland attorney Robert Raich, whose wife, Angel, is
one of two plaintiffs in the case.
The other, Diane Monson,
suffers from a degenerative disease of the spine. Like Angel Raich, who
has an inoperable brain tumor, Monson said marijuana had been
especially effective at easing her pain and restoring her appetite.
In August 2002, however, U.S. drug agents raided Monson's home and destroyed her six cannabis plants.
last year, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that the
federal agents had overstepped their authority and issued an order that
bars the Drug Enforcement Administration from enforcing the drug laws
against patients whose marijuana is grown at home.
"noncommercial cultivation, possession and use of marijuana for
personal medical purposes" is protected under California law and is
beyond the federal authority, said Judge Harry Pregerson in a 2-1
decision. It is "different in kind from drug trafficking," he added.
Justice Department appealed that decision, and on Monday the Supreme
Court said it would hear the case, Ashcroft vs. Raich, during the
court's next term.
"The Supreme Court has a chance to protect
the rights of patients everywhere who need medical cannabis to treat
their afflictions," said Steph Sherer, executive director of the
medical-marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access. "Too many
have gone to prison, and too many have been denied access to the
medication their doctors recommend."