Lockyer, Three Other States Say Federal Government Has No Authority Over Medicinal Marijuana Use
Attorney General Bill Lockyer (D) on Wednesday filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of California, Maryland and Washington state that said patients who use locally grown marijuana for medical purposes should be exempt from federal drug enforcement, the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle, 10/14).
The U.S. Supreme Court, which is examining the legality of prosecuting chronically ill people who grow and use marijuana with a doctor's prescription, on Nov. 29 will review a Bush administration appeal of a ruling in the case of two California women whose doctors had recommended the drug.
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.
The case involves Angel Raich of Oakland and Diane Monson of Oroville, both of whom 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 Attorney General John Ashcroft and Drug Enforcement Administration Chief Asa Hutchinson. A district judge in March 2002 ruled against Raich and Monson, and Raich appealed the case to the 9th Circuit Court (California Healthline, 10/4).
The brief filed by Lockyer's office states, "The federal government has limited authority to interfere with state legislation enacted for the protection of citizen health, safety and welfare." The brief also noted that the Controlled Substance Act was passed prior to the AIDS epidemic and before doctors began to recommend marijuana to alleviate symptoms of therapy for AIDS and cancer.
According to Taylor Carey, a special assistant attorney general who wrote the brief for Lockyer, the federal ban on marijuana should not be applied to state-regulated use of marijuana because of such developments (San Francisco Chronicle, 10/14).
Attorneys general for Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana on Wednesday also filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of Raich and Monson saying that the federal government should not have authority over whether states allow medical use of marijuana, the Sacramento Bee reports. The brief states that the Constitution does not "permi[t] the federal government, under the guise of regulating interstate commerce, to criminalize the purely local possession of personal medicinal use" of marijuana.
The brief states that the federal government does not have the right to interfere in a state's regulation of citizens' health, safety, welfare and morals, the Bee reports (Cooper, Sacramento Bee, 10/14).