MEDICAL MARIJUANA: Appeals Court Supports Medical Need
A federal court of appeals suggested in a ruling yesterday that "there may be an important exception to federal drug laws that would allow the distribution of medicinal marijuana," the San Jose Mercury News reports. The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in San Francisco, ordered federal District Judge Charles Breyer to review a 1998 decision that closed the Oakland Cannabis Cultivator's Cooperative for violating federal anti-drug laws. The court determined that a demonstration of "medical necessity" by patients in individual cases could allow clubs like Oakland's to continue distribution to them. They wrote, "(The Oakland Club has) identified a strong public interest in the availability of a doctor-prescribed treatment that would help ameliorate the condition and relieve the pain and suffering of a large group of persons with serious or fatal illnesses." The Department of Justice, however, which opposed the Buyers' Cooperative in court, "has yet to identify any interest it may have in blocking the distribution of cannabis to those with medical needs, relying exclusively on its general interest in enforcing its statutes." Moreover, the three-judge panel found that Breyer did not afford the pot club a sufficient opportunity to present a medical- necessity defense (Mintz, 9/14). Judges Mary Schroeder, Stephen Reinhardt and Barry Silverman, while stopping short of overturning Breyer's decision, said he must consider whether to "exempt from the injunction, distribution to seriously ill individuals who need cannabis for medical purposes."
Chink in the Armor?
Robert Raich, an attorney for the Oakland club, said the decision "may allow a narrower class of patients than those singled out under Proposition 215 to buy and use cannabis," such as AIDS and cancer patients. He said, "It may provide a method under federal law in which medical patients, some medical patients, can be provided with the medical cannabis they need ... legally." Colleague Gerald Uelmen added, "It requires courts to exercise discretion to look at the circumstances of individual patients and weigh that against the public interest" (Dolan/Curtius, Los Angeles Times, 9/14). Dennis Peron, director of the defunct Cannabis Cultivator's Club in San Francisco, said, "It's the greatest news I've had in a long time. I know Judge Breyer will see it our way, that in fact marijuana does save lives and that sometimes you have to break a law to save a life" (Lee, San Francisco Chronicle, 9/14). Hastings College of the Law professor Rory Little said, "(The appeals court judges) are saying that federal narcotics laws have a medical-necessity defense available. No court has ever held that to my knowledge -- it's a dramatic assertion" (San Jose Mercury News, 9/14).
How Much Is Too Much?
In related news, Attorney General Bill Lockyer (D) sent a letter to Mendocino County District Attorney Norman Vroman and Sheriff Tony Craver "questioning the 'excessive' use of pot allowed under [the county's] new medicinal marijuana program, an amount equivalent to a dozen or more marijuana cigarettes a day." But Vroman blamed the controversy on the state's failure to specify how much pot patients could possess. He said, "If the state wants to provide some definitive guidance, we will be happy to attempt to bring our policy into conformance. Until then, we're going to continue the way we are" (Geniella, Santa Rosa Press Democrat, 9/14).