California Healthline Highlights Recent Coverage of Medical Marijuana Issues
The Los Angeles Times Magazine on Sunday examined a lawsuit filed against U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and Asa Hutchinson, former head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, by chronic pain sufferer Angel Raich, two growers who supply her with marijuana and Diane Monson, another medical marijuana user (Mithers, Los Angeles Times, 11/14).
A three-judge panel in December 2003 ruled 2-1 that prosecuting people who use marijuana for medical purposes under the federal 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.
Both Raich and Monson received letters from their physicians authorizing them to use marijuana for medical purposes. The physicians' permission protected them under Proposition 215, a 1996 state ballot measure that legalized medical use of marijuana, from state and local prosecution.
Raich's doctor said that other medications for pain and for side effects of therapies for a brain tumor, wasting syndrome, a seizure disorder and other conditions had been "useless or harmful" and that she might die without marijuana. Monson, who takes marijuana for severe chronic back pain and muscle spasms, had been subject to a federal raid in August 2002 during which six of her marijuana plants were seized and destroyed.
To protect themselves from further federal interference with their treatment, Raich and Monson filed a lawsuit in October 2002 against Ashcroft and Hutchinson. A district judge in March 2002 ruled against Raich and Monson, and Raich appealed the case to the 9th Circuit Court (California Healthline, 10/14). The appeals court reversed the decision in December 2003, ruling that states could adopt medical marijuana laws if the drug was not sold or transported across state lines or used for nonmedical purposes.
The suit, which is scheduled to come before the U.S. Supreme Court Nov. 29, asks for a court injunction to stop federal arrests and prosecutions of those who grow, possess or use marijuana for medical reasons in states allowing the practice.
The Times reports that the decision will have "national implications" because nine other states also allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes (Los Angeles Times, 11/14).
The Sacramento Bee on Monday examined research undertaken at the state Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research, which the Legislature created in 1999 and for which it approved $9 million in funds over three years, "to find out whether marijuana makes good medicine." According to the Bee, researchers have reported few "definitive results" since the center was created.
The center's three staff members, who operate in a 600 square-foot space in an office rental shared with a University of California-San Diego HIV research program, have taken "longer than expected" to begin studies, and data is being "collected and crunched," according to the Bee.
Center scientists have published results from two studies suggesting cannabis or cannabinoids -- chemicals derived from, or similar to, the active ingredients in marijuana -- "could be good medicine," and the center "has established enough credibility to become a permanent entity," the Bee reports. The Legislature in 2003 approved a measure to make the center permanent, although the legislation did not include additional funding.
"Whatever happens, within a couple of years, we will have completed the largest group of therapeutic trials on smoked cannabis that's ever been done, and there ought to be some answers," Dr. Igor Grant, UCSD professor and director of the center, said (Lau, Sacramento Bee, 11/15).
After 17 of 20 ballot initiatives nationwide to reduce restrictions on marijuana use passed on Nov. 2, politicians "should finally realize that the public is ready for a serious re-examination of marijuana laws that are too often based on ignorance and superstition," Robert Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, wrote in a San Francisco Chronicle opinion piece. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), who has said he supports legalization of marijuana for medical purposes, should use his "considerable clout within the GOP" to press for further loosening of restrictions over the practice, and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) -- "who's been missing in action on this issue" -- "should push to stop federal attacks on the sick and to bring sanity to federal marijuana laws," Kampia writes (Kampia, San Francisco Chronicle, 11/15).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.