High court to rule on medical pot

April 03, 2005

Josh Richman, Oakland Tribune

SAN FRANCISCO — Oakland's Angel Raich moved through the crowd like a rock star.

With a U.S. Supreme Court ruling imminent in her medical-marijuana case, she was a head-turning honored guest at the annual conference of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws this weekend at the Cathedral Hill Hotel.

'My whole image has changed, and I take that with great honor' she acknowledged Thursday, moments before taking part in a panel discussion of people who've tangled with the federal government on medical marijuana.

She said she takes comfort in knowing she's 'speaking on behalf of so many patients,' and this buoys her when she's feeling down or in pain.

Raich and Oroville resident Diane Monson sued federal officials in 2002 to halt raids against medical marijuana patients and providers operating under California's 1996 compassionate use law. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2003 ruled in their favor, ordering an injunction to halt the raids.

The U.S. Supreme Court heard their case last November and will rule on it sometime between now and the end of the court's session this June. Anticipation is running high within NORML and other marijuana advocacy groups.

'These women are the embodiment of thousands and

  thousands of other patients out there today who don't have a voice, who feel like they're not recognized in this gray area of law, medicine and culture,' said Allen St. Pierre, a longtime NORML officer who became its executive director in January.

Raich's and Monson's lawyers argued that the U.S. Constitution's commerce clause lets Congress regulate only interstate commerce, and that Californians' medical marijuana use neither crosses state lines nor is commerce. The idea that the federal government shouldn't be allowed to infringe upon state powers is a classic conservative argument; several states

without medical marijuana laws filed friend-of-the-court briefs on the women's behalf.

The government claims it has a right to regulate local activity that's an essential part of a larger regulation of economic activity. Marijuana trafficking regularly crosses state lines and involves money changing hands, it says, so all marijuana — even that grown within a single state — affects the overall black-market supply and so can be federally banned.

Raich reiterated Thursday that if she wins, 'it really is a major victory for patients everywhere,' spelling an end to the federal government's 'war on patients' in all states with

  medical marijuana laws.

But if she loses, she noted, all those state laws will still stand, and the status quo conflict between those laws and federal law will remain. If that happens, she said, it'll be 'just the beginning of the next new fight for me' as she pressures Congress to change federal law. She said she has 'tricks up my sleeve ... that will help bring this issue to the next plateau.'

St. Pierre agreed there's 'no downside to their legal effort' — a victory could embolden other states to pass medical marijuana laws, while a defeat leaves patients and providers no worse off than they were before.

The

  NORML conference continued through Saturday with speeches, panel discussions and breakout sessions on topics such as student activism, police tactics and hemp cultivation.

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