U.S. Supreme Court To Review Medical Marijuana Decision in Upcoming Term
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday will begin a new term during which it will examine the legality of prosecuting chronically ill people who grow and use marijuana with a doctor's prescription, the AP/Seattle Times reports (Holland, AP/Seattle Times, 10/3). The court on Nov. 29 will review a Bush administration appeal of a ruling in the case of two California women last December by a U.S. appeals court in San Francisco that a federal law outlawing marijuana does not apply to patients whose doctors had recommended the drug (Vicini, Reuters, 10/3).
In the case, a three-judge panel 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, who received letters from their physicians authorizing them to use marijuana for medical purposes. The physicians' permission protected them under Proposition 215, a 1996 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, 12/17/03).
In Ashcroft v. Raich, the Supreme Court will consider whether federal agents lack authority to interfere with medical marijuana grown by seriously ill people who do not take it across state lines.
According to the Boston Globe, the Supreme Court "frequently reverses the 9th Circuit and has consistently rejected challenges to federal drug laws." Georgetown University law professor Michael Gottesman said, "This represents another case in an ongoing battle between the Supreme Court and the 9th Circuit, and the 9th Circuit is playing games. If you play games and the other side is the Supreme Court, you're not going to win" (Savage, Boston Globe, 10/3).
Duke University law professor Erwin Chemerinsky said, "The bottom line is it's a term likely to be filled with blockbuster decisions" (Reuters, 10/3). NPR's "Weekend Edition Sunday" included an interview with Mimi Wesson, a professor at the University of Colorado School of Law, about the court's consideration of the medical marijuana case (Kast, "Weekend Edition Sunday," NPR, 10/3). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.
In related news, Fremont City Council members on Tuesday approved by consent vote a 45-day emergency ban on medical marijuana dispensaries in an effort to "protect the public health, safety and welfare," the Chico Enterprise-Record reports. Many distributors have moved to Fremont from Hayward, San Francisco and Oakland after city officials closed the distributors because of a rise in illegal drug activity and sales, according to the Enterprise-Record. While the ban is in effect, city officials plan to study issues related to zoning, licensing and other regulations. The council in November will decide whether to extend the ban by up to two years. Fremont and many other jurisdictions do not have zoning codes outlining where dispensaries can be located.
Fremont Police Chief Craig Steckler said, "This is an inherent conflict between state statute and federal statute. We should not be put in a position to turn a blind eye to federal law."
William Dolphin -- a spokesperson for Americans for Safe Access, a medical marijuana advocacy group -- said, "It is a right that Californians have to access medical marijuana when authorized by their doctors. This (moratorium) is a poor use of taxpayers' resources to circumvent the will of the people" (Wong, Chico Enterprise-Record, 10/1).