Still seeking some relief

April 19, 2007

EDITORIAL, Stockton Record

Stockton-born Angel Raich, a 41-year-old mother of two who lives in Oakland, suffers from scoliosis, an inoperable brain tumor and chronic nausea.

Her physician says the only thing that helps relieve the pain is doctor-prescribed medicinal marijuana eaten, smoked or in vaporized form every two or three hours.

She is at the forefront of an intense, shifting national battle over the use of medical marijuana.

The issue pits the state against the federal government, the judiciary against the executive, theory against regulation, and history against a growing acceptance of marijuana's value in restricted doses and uses.

In March, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals - regarded as the nation's most liberal federal appellate court - ruled that Raich could be prosecuted under federal statutes even though using mari-juana for medical purposes is legal in California.

The court also acknowledged her constant suffering and suggested her best strategy might be getting arrested and deploying a "medical necessity defense."

Agreeing with a 2005 Supreme Court decision that went against Raich, the three-judge panel ruled the United States hasn't reached a point where "the right to use medical marijuana is 'fundamental' and 'implicit in the concept of ordered liberty.' "

However, a February ruling by an administrative law judge recommended that clinical testing and research of prescription marijuana should fall under authority of the Federal Drug Administration, which is part of the executive branch of government.

Should marijuana become an approved pharmaceutical, it could be prescribed by doctors much like methadone, codeine or morphine.

Recent medical breakthroughs have showed other, noncannabis drugs are helpful with nausea and lost appetite. These also should be explored fully.

The process needed to justify marijuana's medicinal use could last a decade. Still it's the best chance to resolve the state-federal standoff.

New Mexico now is the 12th state to adopt a medical marijuana law - with the nation's tightest controls and safeguards. That legislation, like California's, remains subordinate to flawed federal law.

Raich's case might reach the Supreme Court again. But justices repeatedly have ruled against states that permit the use of medicinal marijuana.

Raich now must continue to hope she won't be arrested and prosecuted by federal drug enforcement officers.

She lives it in pain and suffering with marijuana perhaps the only comfort available to her.



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