Supreme Court Decision on Medical Marijuana Raises Questions
The U.S. Supreme Court decision on Monday that the federal government has the authority to prohibit and prosecute the possession and use of marijuana for medical purposes "may have raised more questions than it answered," according to the Christian Science Monitor (Knickerbocker, Christian Science Monitor, 6/8). The case, Gonzalez v. Raich, involved a lawsuit filed by two California residents: Angel Raich, who has a brain tumor, life-threatening weight loss, a seizure disorder and nausea; and Diana Monson, who has severe back pain and constant muscle spasms caused by a degenerative spine disease.
In 2002, Drug Enforcement Administration agents seized and destroyed marijuana plants that Monson possessed -- California law allows residents to possess and use marijuana for medical purposes with a recommendation from a physician -- and the two women filed suit against the U.S. attorney general to prevent future raids (California Healthline, 6/7).
Opponents and supporters of medical marijuana maintain that the federal government likely will not enforce the Controlled Substances Act more "rigorously" in response to the Supreme Court decision because DEA agents are responsible for only a small number of marijuana arrests and state and local police are "not obliged to help federal agencies prosecute people following state law," the Monitor reports. In addition, a "general public belief" exists that individuals, rather than government, should have authority over medical decisions and "that support is behind the push in several states" to legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes, according to the Monitor.
The House next week will consider an amendment to the fiscal year 2006 Science, State, Justice and Commerce appropriations bill that would prohibit the use of federal funds to prosecute individuals who use medical marijuana (Christian Science Monitor, 6/8). Similar amendments have failed in past years. Amendment sponsors Reps. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) said that they likely will have at least 160 votes when the amendment moves to the House floor for a vote, which is expected on Tuesday or Wednesday. "It's our objective to get a few more votes this year. There's a good chance we will get more support," Hinchey said (Epstein, San Francisco Chronicle, 6/8).
Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, said that the Supreme Court decision, which "stressed the need for medical marijuana patients to use the democratic process," places the "ball in Congress' court" (Christian Science Monitor, 6/8).
However, Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.), who opposes the amendment, said, "We cannot allow the state initiative process to undermine" national health and safety standards "on the basis of political -- not scientific -- arguments."
Joyce Nalepka, founder and president of Drug Free Kids: America's Challenge, added, "What amazes me is that there are so many people who can get elected to federal office and be so ill-informed. There is absolutely no medical evidence that marijuana has any medical effectiveness" (San Francisco Chronicle, 6/8).
In related news, the Supreme Court decision will not affect seven U.S. residents enrolled in a "compassionate use" program that provides them with about 300 marijuana cigarettes monthly to treat pain, USA Today reports.
Tom Riley, a spokesperson for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said that the federal government has spent millions of dollars to study the potential health benefits of marijuana and that the program is "just part of that effort" (Koch, USA Today, 6/8).
Several newspapers recently published editorials and opinion pieces related to the Supreme Court decision. Summaries appear below:
Christian Science Monitor: Although the "practical result" of the decision "is correct in supporting a ban" on marijuana, "it further erodes the role of states as laboratories for social, legal and political experiments," a Monitor editorial states (Christian Science Monitor, 6/8).
New York Times: Congress should amend the Constitution "to specifically exempt prescribed marijuana" to prevent the Department of Justice from "pursuing this ideological obsession" to prosecute individuals who use marijuana for medical purposes, according to a Times editorial (New York Times, 6/8).
- Sally Satel, New York Times: The development of "cannabis into an approved and effective prescription medication" will require a federal government "that is truly open to the research that it claims to value," Satel, a psychiatrist and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, writes in a Times opinion piece (Satel, New York Times, 6/8).
Richmond Times-Dispatch: The "important point" of the decision is that the "case focused less of the immediate issue" of the legalization of medical marijuana "than on governmental procedure and authority," and by "striking down state laws, the court angered activists while reflecting the citizenry's sentiment," a Richmond Times-Dispatch editorial states (Richmond Times-Dispatch, 6/8).
Riverside Press-Enterprise: A bill (HR 2087) sponsored by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) would "block federal prosecution of medical marijuana in states that allow the practice" and "let police focus on tracking down dangerous criminals, allow doctors to decide what's best for their patients, and encourage cooperation -- rather than confusion -- among federal and state law-enforcement agencies," according to a Press-Enterprise editorial (Riverside Press-Enterprise, 6/7).
Santa Rosa Press Democrat: Congress needs to remove marijuana from the list of Schedule 1 drugs "and move the nation off this hard-hearted position -- before we start putting sick people behind bars," a Press Democrat editorial states (Santa Rosa Press Democrat, 6/7).
Sacramento Bee: U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales "should reclassify marijuana and subject it to the same strict controls as other Schedule II to Schedule V drugs," instead of expending "resources harassing ill patients," a Bee editorial states (Sacramento Bee, 6/8).
Wall Street Journal: The decision indicates that Supreme Court justices who have voted to limit the authority of the federal government in the past "appear to have retreated" from that position, which is "not a good decision for anyone who believes there are constitutional limits on the federal leviathan," according to a Wall Street Journal editorial (Wall Street Journal, 6/8).
Washington Post: "A Supreme Court decision disallowing federal authority" in state medical marijuana laws "would have been a disaster in areas ranging from civil rights enforcement to environmental protection," a Washington Post editorial states (Washington Post, 6/8).
- George Will, Washington Post: U.S. residents "should use the court's end-of-term decisions as whetstones on which to sharpen their sense of the ambiguities in the categories -- 'liberal,' 'conservative,' 'activist,' 'practitioner of judicial restraint' -- used when judges are discussed," Post columnist Will writes, adding, "Such judgments are not as easy as many suppose" (Will, Washington Post, 6/8).
Several broadcast programs continued to report on the implications of the medical marijuana decision:
- KQED's "The California Report": The segment includes comments from Brad Joondeph, professor of law at Santa Clara University; California Attorney General Bill Lockyer (D); Raich; and Robert Raich, lead attorney for the plaintiffs (Musiker, "The California Report," KQED, 6/7). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.
- KQED's "Forum": Guests on the program are scheduled to include Vik Amar, law professor at the University of California's Hastings College of Law; Douglas Kmiec, chair and professor of constitutional law at Pepperdine University; and Joseph Russoniello, dean at San Francisco Law School and a former U.S. Attorney (Krasny, "Forum," KQED, 6/8). The complete segment will be available online in RealPlayer after the broadcast.
- NPR's "All Things Considered": The segment includes comments from Daniel Abrahamson, legal affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance; Bill Grant, spokesperson and agent at DEA; Lockyer; RandeLyn Webster, co-founder of the San Francisco Patients' Cooperative (Gonzales, "All Things Considered," NPR, 6/7). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.