Federal Appeals Court Hears Medical Marijuana Case
A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on Tuesday heard arguments in a case over whether the federal government has the authority to deny home-grown marijuana to two California women who use the drug for medical purposes, the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle, 10/8). The two women -- Angel Raich of Oakland and Diane Monson of Oroville -- sued U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft for the right to smoke, grow or obtain marijuana without fear of federal prosecution. California's Proposition 215, a ballot measure approved by voters in 1996 and upheld by the state Supreme Court last July, allows patients with chronic diseases to use marijuana to treat pain. However, federal law prohibits the cultivation, distribution or possession of marijuana. Raich and Monson claimed that Congress' constitutional power to regulate interstate commerce, which is the basis for federal drug laws, does not apply to marijuana grown, distributed and used inside one state. But in March, U.S. District Judge Martin Jenkins said he would not issue an injunction preventing the federal government from prosecuting the two California women, saying that the federal ban on marijuana applies to everyone, even if patients who use the drugs and the drugs themselves do not cross state lines (California Healthline, 3/11).
In arguments Tuesday, Raich and Monson's lawyer said that "[b]anning patients from using locally produced marijuana, with their doctors' approval, goes beyond Congress' constitutional authority to regulate interstate commerce" (San Francisco Chronicle, 10/8). The women added that "because they scrupulously avoid connection with interstate commerce in obtaining their pot supplies, the federal government has no power to interfere with them" (Cooper, Sacramento Bee, 10/8). Justice Department lawyer Mark Quinlivan argued that "Congress has made express findings that both inter- and intrastate drug trafficking affect interstate commerce." The Chronicle reports that the three-judge panel appeared "sympathetic" to the two women. "There was no commercial activity," Judge Harry Pregerson said, adding, "They're not selling this. They're just using it for their own benefit" (San Francisco Chronicle, 10/8).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.