The Case of Angel Raich
March 18, 2007
Jon Carroll, Columnist, San Francisco Chronicle
So today we have the case of Angel Raich, who has been using medical marijuana since 1997 to cope with the pain of scoliosis, endometriosis, seizures and a serious wasting disease. She says marijuana is the only thing that relieves her pain. She uses marijuana every day, even though it is against federal law. Her doctor says that if she stops using marijuana, she will die in agony.
She is not fond of being a lawbreaker. She is not fond of waiting for the feds to confiscate her stash and bring her up for arraignment on felony charges. So she has sued the government, contesting the ban on medical marijuana. Her case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where her petition was denied.
Her very last constitutional challenge was denied last week, when a three-judge panel of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court "reluctantly" agreed that she had no case. Actually, the reluctance part was only a 2-1 decision, because Judge Arlen Beam, visiting from St. Louis, said that he wasn't reluctant at all and that bad people should be punished. Here I paraphrase.
So on one side: seriously ill woman in excruciating pain. On the other side: comfortable judges expressing tasteful reluctance. I know, if we ignore the laws we rip the fabric of society, and we can't break a law just because we don't agree with it, and we certainly can't interpret laws in order to get a desirable outcome. Oh yes, and that never happens.
Except, say, for Bush vs. Gore, where the Supreme Court, citing nothing at all that made any sense, made George Bush president because it wanted him to be president. And then it said: This ruling is not a precedent, it's just a thing we felt like doing. Again I paraphrase. So it's OK to bend the rules to get a Republican in the White House, but it's not OK to bend the rules to allow a woman to avoid agony. Yeah, those are values I can live with.
Come on, judges, take a chance. You're lawyers; you can figure out a way. Do the right thing. End your careers by bringing succor to the sick. There are worse ways to be remembered.
The laws against marijuana are stupid. Everyone knows they're stupid, even the politicians who cravenly refuse to counteract them. The distinction between legal drugs and illegal drugs is meaningless; the law stands as written because powerful corporations want it that way. God forbid we should interrupt the cash flow at Merck or Seagram in order to make sick people feel better. Start doing that, and soon well people will want to feel better too, and society as we know it will collapse.
Of course, the illegality of marijuana has not stopped its considerable consumption in the United States; it's just raised the price of the product and sent the profits over to criminal enterprises even more loathsome than Merck and Seagram. The laws are not protecting society against marijuana; they're just turning cancer patients into criminals.
This is not new. I have typed these words, or ones very like them, before. This is the "hammering my tiny fists against the large iron door" part of the job.
But here's what I think: I think the federal government, in this case, is no better than a thug. I think that prosecutors who go after medical marijuana cases are criminals, morally if not actually. I think all the people who have participated in giving people ridiculous three-strike prison sentences for marijuana-related crimes are hypocrites and fools. It's an obvious and complete injustice. They all know it. They should all be ashamed of themselves.
I'm thinking about one of those old-time movies. I've never actually seen one of them, but the basic plot has so saturated the culture I feel I know it intimately. Our hero has failed to sell his ranch to the railroad company, and the company sends out a villainous fellow with a black cape and waxed mustache to get the land any way he can. So the villain kidnaps our hero's girlfriend and puts her in some sort of peril, perhaps tied to a railroad track. And then the villain laughs "ha ha ha" as the woman struggles against the inevitable.
I am thinking that Angel Raich is that woman. I am thinking that the federal prosecutor is the sinister malefactor. Neither villain really cares about the woman in peril; he just wants to make sure he gets his way. If people have to suffer to ensure that the powerful stay powerful, well, in the words of evildoers everywhere, ha ha ha. And I think it's a disgrace, and I wish some guy on a white horse would come and rescue our heroine. But, alas, this is real life.
OK, maybe it's a bit of a rant. Sometimes the circumstances demand ranting, and I can do that