9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Orders Review of Cases Involving Medical Marijuana Distributors
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on Friday ordered federal judges to reconsider their decisions against medical marijuana dispensaries in Oakland, Santa Cruz, Fairfax and Ukiah because of the court's December 2003 ruling that federal drug laws apply only in cases that involve interstate commerce, the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle, 6/19). A three-judge panel in December ruled 2-1 that prosecuting people who use marijuana for medical purposes under the 1970 Controlled Substances Act is unconstitutional in states where the drug's use is allowed under a physician's advice, provided that the marijuana is not sold, transported across state lines or used for nonmedical purposes (California Healthline, 5/20). The Bush administration appealed the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, which is scheduled to announce later this month whether it will grant review or allow the ruling to stand. The appeals court said that its December ruling "may control the outcome" of each dispensary's case. The clubs in Oakland, Fairfax and Ukiah are appealing injunctions obtained by federal authorities that ban them from distributing marijuana to patients. The Santa Cruz organization, Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana, is looking to recover marijuana plants seized by federal agents in a September 2002 raid. The appeals court's order said that judges should reconsider the clubs' cases after the U.S. Supreme Court acts in the matter.
Annette Carnegie, one of the clubs' attorneys, said that the order was a positive sign for her client, the Chronicle reports. She said that although the December ruling involved individual patients rather than distributors, the "issues are very similar." She added, "What (the ruling) establishes is that patients, along with those who assist them, are allowed to possess and cultivate cannabis for their use. ... The federal government doesn't have the right to interfere with strictly interstate activities." However, Justice Department attorneys say that the December ruling does not protect marijuana distributors, regardless of the U.S. Supreme Court's action (San Francisco Chronicle, 6/19).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.