New Jersey Man Fights For Medical Marijuana

June 06, 2005

Joseph Pickard, Ashbury Park Press

Cheryl Lee Miller used marijuana to lessen her pain and she claimed it prolonged her life. She suffered from multiple sclerosis for 32 years and died two years ago on June 7 at age 56.

To the end, she and her husband Jim, 52, a carpenter from Toms River, were advocates of legalizing medical marijuana. Honoring his wife's deathbed request, Jim Miller continues the effort.

The U.S. Supreme Court decision Monday that marijuana use for medical purposes violates federal law saddened Miller but will not stop him.

'I can't say their decision surprises me, even though taking someone's medicine away is among the worst things humans can do to each other,' Miller said. 'I sympathize with those people in California. But we've got a bill in the state Senate here, and we're going to continue to push it.'

In a 6-to-3 decision, the nation's high court ruled that federal authorities can prosecute sick people whose doctors prescribe marijuana to ease pain. The court concluded that state laws do not protect users from a federal ban on the drug.

The issue was an appeal by the Bush administration in a case involving two seriously ill California women, Diane Monson and Angel Raich, who use medical marijuana. The women sued then-Attorney General John Ashcroft for wanting to prosecute them on federal charges when California state law has permitted medical marijuana use since 1996.

Original court decisions went in the women's favor, but things changed on Monday.

Justice John Paul Stevens, who wrote the majority opinion, said the court was not passing judgment on the possible medical benefits of marijuana use.

At issue was Congress' right to pass laws regulating a state's economic activity as long as it involves 'interstate commerce' — economic activity that crosses state lines. The California marijuana in question was home-grown marijuana, which never crossed state lines. Lawyers for the women argued, therefore, that the federal government had no jurisdiction.

But lawyers for the Bush administration countered that marijuana is a commodity whose activity within one state could affect the national economy.

Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Clarence Thomas dissented.

'If Congress can regulate this under the Commerce Clause, then it can regulate virtually anything,' Thomas wrote.

Jim Miller agreed.

'When you look at their reasoning, it's pretty ridiculous,' Miller said. 'They're saying they can regulate something that isn't interstate commerce under the interstate commerce law because that activity affects interstate commerce by not being interstate commerce. They can regulate you if it's interstate commerce, and they can regulate you if it's not. They can regulate you for everything.'

In addition to California, the states of Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington have laws permitting medical marijuana use. The Supreme Court's decision does not negate these laws.

State Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-Union, is the author of S-2200, a bill entitled the 'New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act,' which is similar to the medical marijuana laws in other states. If made law, the measure would prohibit the prosecution of a person under a doctor's care who 'possesses a registry identification card and no more than six marijuana plants and one ounce of usable marijuana.'

The bill is in the Senate's Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee.

'What the Supreme Court decided on medical marijuana will not affect what happens in New Jersey,' Scutari said.

He explained that states are not required to enforce federal law or prosecute people for engaging in activities prohibited by federal law. Therefore, permitting medical marijuana does not put New Jersey in violation of federal law, he said.

The Supreme Court decision confirmed that federal authorities have the right to prosecute marijuana cases under federal law. Scutari pointed out that 99 out of 100 marijuana prosecutions are on the state level, so his legislation would virtually protect medical marijuana users from prosecution in New Jersey.

Scutari is hoping to get a committee hearing for his bill in the near future.

Terrence P. Farley, first assistant Ocean County prosecutor, says, however, he sees no value in marijuana use.

'Out-of-state drug legalizers and their highly paid local minions . . . are fostering this issue with the ultimate goal to legalize drugs,' Farley said.

Some residents disagreed.

'If the marijuana's application is for the relief of pain, then it should be allowed,' said Jim Tierney, 82, of Dover Township.?

Fran Oehme of Dover Township agreed.

'They should legalize it for medical purposes,' she said. 'They already allow stronger drugs, like morphine, to be prescribed. Why not marijuana, which does not have harmful side effects like morphine?'

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