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High Court to Decide on Medical Marijuana Case

by Lila Bernstein

The US Supreme Court is reviewing whether the federal government can prosecute sick people who use marijuana for medicine in states where it is legal.

Dec. 1, 2004 – On Monday, the US Supreme Court heard arguments over whether medical marijuana patients are protected from federal drug laws by their own states’ laws. Angel Raich and Diane Monson, who both use marijuana under doctors’ advice and in accordance with California state law to treat chronic medical conditions, asked the high court to grant them constitutional protection from prosecution by the federal government.

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The crux of the case is whether or not patients’ marijuana cultivation and use can be considered "interstate commerce" and therefore subject to congressional regulation.

Last year, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals granted the women relief from federal charges, finding that the US Congress did not have the authority to interfere with individual state laws that allow the cultivation of marijuana for personal medical use. California is one of eleven states that allow various degrees medical marijuana use.

"[T]he intrastate, noncommercial cultivation, possession and use of marijuana for personal medical purposes on the advice of a physician is, in fact, different in kind from drug trafficking," wrote the Appeals Court. "Moreover, this limited use is clearly distinct from the broader illicit drug market ... insofar as the medicinal marijuana at issue in this case is not intended for, nor does it enter, the stream of commerce."

The Appeals Court judges said they also factored into its decision "public interest consideration and the burden faced by [Raich and Monson] if, contrary to California law, they are denied access to medicinal marijuana."

The Bush administration is appealing that decision to the Supreme Court, arguing that even when grown for personal medical use, marijuana cultivation could affect interstate commerce. "What you're talking about here is possession, manufacture, distribution of a valuable commodity to which there's a ready market," argued Justice Department lawyer Paul Clement, as reported by the Chicago Tribune.

Randy Barnett, who represented Raich and Monson, counted that since marijuana is grown for the sole use of the patient, is not sold and does not leave the state, it has nothing to do with interstate commerce and is therefore out of Congress’s power to regulate.

In a press release about the Supreme Court case, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) Keith Stroup said, "At its core, this case is about the right of seriously ill patients to use marijuana as a medicine to relieve their pain and suffering, without fear of arrest by the federal government, in those states that have legalized its use." Stroup’s organization filed a friend of the court brief with the Supreme Court on behalf of Raich and Monson.

Stroup continued: "Should the Supreme Court uphold the Ninth Circuit decision, patients in states that have legalized the medical use of marijuana will no longer live in fear of federal prosecution. Should the Supreme Court overturn the Ninth Circuit's ruling, the medical marijuana issue will still remain prominent in the political arena, to be ultimately decided by legislatures and by voter initiative."

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Lila Bernstein is a contributing journalist.

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