US Supreme Court appears split over marijuana use

November 28, 2004

Agence France Presse, Turkish Press

WASHINGTON, Nov 29 (AFP) - The US Supreme Court on Monday heard arguments over whether marijuana could be used as a medical treatement for those in acute pain.

The medical use of marijuana is approved by 10 US states, but President George W. Bush's administration opposes the practice.

The US' highest court is examining the case of two gravely ill Californian women -- Angel Raich and Diane Monson -- who are seeking to avoid legal punishment in their use of the drug.

The medical use of marijuana has been legal in California since 1996 and it is also permitted by Alaska, Colorado, Hawai, Maine, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington states.

The states allow its use to treat AIDS, cancer, sclerosis and other crippling illnesses.

Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O'Connor, viewed as a moderate in court rulings, appeared to back the states' right to approve the medicinal use of the drug.

'Here it doesn't go to the national market, it's homegrown for medical use, not interstate commerce. This area is traditionally regulated by states. The state of California assumes the enforcement of its laws,' she told the court.

But government attorney Paul Clement said there was no guarantee that trade in marijuana could be restricted. He highlighted that California law does not check the origin of the drug that is used there. This was supported Antonio Scalia a conservative member of the bench.

Randy Barnett, the lawyer for the two Californians, argued before the court that the use of the drug by his clients was based strictly on medical necessity, as the judges mulled concerns about how such treatments could be regulated.

Although state law permits the women to use marijuana as a treatment for their illnesses, agents from the US Drug Enforcement Agency seized marijuana plants from Monson's home in 2002 and the women are seeking to challenge the federal stand on the matter.

'If we rule your way, the numbers would go up,' said Judge David Souter, as opponents and proponents of the debate demonstrated outside on the court's steps.

The Supreme Court is expected to reach a judgement by late June.

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