Medical marijuana 'spokespatient' watches court debate her case

November 29, 2004

Eric Werner, Associated Press

California's self-described 'spokespatient' for medical marijuana watched the Supreme Court debate her case Monday, then pleaded publicly for the justices to allow her and other sick people to continue using the drug.

'Without cannabis, I would not be standing here before you,' Angel Raich, 39, of Oakland, Calif., told a news conference after the oral argument.

'I ask the Supreme Court to please help me save my life.'

Raich uses marijuana every two hours to fight ailments including tumors, seizures and chronic nausea, and contends she and other severely ill patients could die without it. She even suggested that Chief Justice William Rehnquist might benefit from the drug.

The 80-year-old chief justice is undergoing treatment for thyroid cancer and missed Monday's argument.

'I think he would find that cannabis would help him a lot,' Raich said.

The mother of two traveled to Washington with about 20 family members and supporters to watch the culmination of a legal battle that began when she and co-plaintiff Diane Monson of Oroville, Calif., sued Attorney General John Ashcroft in 2002.

They brought the suit after federal officials started raiding medical marijuana suppliers in California and seizing individuals' plants, including six from Monson's home.

At issue is whether states have the right to adopt laws allowing the use of drugs the federal government has banned, and whether federal drug agents can arrest individuals for abiding by those medical marijuana laws.

California passed the nation's first medical marijuana law in 1996, and 10 other states have passed similar laws since.

Raich and Monson won in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, and Raich carries in her purse a copy of a preliminary injunction from that court that bars federal officials from arresting her for using medical marijuana as allowed by California's law.

The pale-skinned, 100-pound activist said she used marijuana just before her news conference, a mere block from the Supreme Court and less than a mile from Department of Justice.

Raich smokes the drug or inhales it in vaporized form, using medical-quality strains with names such as 'Haze X' and 'Juicy Fruit.'

Without the drug, Raich said she would be confined to a wheelchair as she once was - or wasting away entirely because of loss of appetite. She began using marijuana after traditional drugs didn't help, and has her doctor's blessing.

'Do you really feel that it's the right of the federal government to tell a patient how they should get their medical care?' Raich asked, her eyes behind wire-rimmed glasses occasionally filling with tears.

'I don't like using cannabis,' she said. 'I use cannabis because I have to, not because I choose to.'

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