US Court Says Govt Can Bar Medical Marijuana Use

June 06, 2005

, Reuters

The federal government has the power to prevent sick patients from smoking home-grown marijuana that a doctor recommended to relieve chronic pain, a divided US Supreme Court has ruled in a setback for the medical marijuana movement. The 6-3 ruling means the federal government can enforce a federal law prohibiting the cultivation, possession and use of medical marijuana even where it is legal under state law.  At least nine states allow medical use of marijuana.

Justice John Paul Stevens said for the court majority that the federal law, the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, was a valid exercise of federal power by the US Congress 'even as applied to the troubling facts of this case' involving two seriously ill California women.

Angel Raich has an inoperable brain tumour and other medical problems while Diane Monson suffers from severe back pain.  Their doctors recommended marijuana for their pain.

Monson cultivates her own marijuana while two of Raich's caregivers grow the marijuana and provide it to her free of charge.  In 2002, Drug Enforcement Administration agents destroyed six cannabis plants seized from Monson's home.

'Just because we did not win this battle does not mean that we will not still have the opportunity to win this war,' Raich said in Oakland, California.  'If I were to stop using cannabis unfortunately I would die.'

Stevens called the case difficult in view of the strong arguments by the two women that they will suffer irreparable harm because marijuana has a valid therapeutic purpose, despite a congressional finding to the contrary.

He said the question before the court was not whether it was wise to enforce the federal law in these circumstances, but only whether Congress has the power to adopt such a law.

Stevens said the democratic process might be more important than the legal challenges and added that supporters of medical marijuana 'may one day be heard in the halls of Congress'.

The ruling was a victory for the Bush administration, which appealed to the Supreme Court after a federal appeals court in California ruled for the two women.

The administration estimated that as many as 100,000 Californians would use marijuana for medical purposes if the Supreme Court ruled for the two women.

John Walters, the White House drug czar, said in a statement, 'Today's decision marks the end of medical marijuana as a political issue.'

Supporters of medical marijuana disagreed.

'The power of state governments to enact and enforce state medical marijuana laws is not affected by the Supreme Court's ruling,' said Allen Hopper of the American Civil Liberties Union's Drug Law Reform Project.

Dan Abrahamson of the Drug Policy Alliance said, 'The federal government still has a choice -- it can waste taxpayer dollars by going after sick and dying patients or go after individuals who pose a real danger to society.'

Government lawyers said it would be difficult to enforce the nation's drug laws if there was an exception for medical marijuana.

Stevens agreed with the government's argument.  He said an exception for medical marijuana would leave a 'gaping hole' in the federal drug law.

Stevens said the power of Congress to regulate commerce among the states included the authority to prohibit the local cultivation and use of marijuana in compliance with California law. 

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