Ban on Federal Medical Marijuana Raids Stands
February 27, 2004
San Francisco – The medical cannabis patient who beat John Ashcroft in federal appeals court last December was delivered another victory by mail yesterday. Angel Raich, who successfully sued for an injunction against future prosecutions, received notice that the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had unanimously rejected the government’s petition for an en banc review of the ruling.
“I’m grateful the full court has joined the 80% of Americans who recognize that medicinal cannabis is legitimate medicine,” said Mrs. Raich. “My children and I will sleep better tonight.”
The notice came two months after a three-judge appellate court panel ruled in Raich vs. Ashcroft that the arrest and prosecution of medical cannabis patients is unconstitutional, so long as they obtain the drug without buying it or crossing state borders and use it medicinally in compliance with state law. The case was the first instance of a court finding an aspect of the federal ban on marijuana to be unconstitutional.
The Justice Department had sought to roll back the decision by petitioning the federal appeals court for an “en banc” review by 11 judges. But the Ninth Circuit stood behind the decision unanimously, with not one of the dozens of judges even asking for a vote on reviewing it.
The refusal to review the decision means the December 16th ruling is final and effective immediately. The ruling becomes binding precedent in the seven states in the Ninth Circuit's jurisdiction that have medical cannabis laws: Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.
“We’re delighted patients in the western states no longer have to fear having their door kicked down by federal agents,' said Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access. 'But the government continues to deny its own research on marijuana’s medical benefits. Until that changes, many Americans will continue to suffer needlessly.”
The Justice Department has 90 days to appeal to the Supreme Court, which has indicated it may be waiting for it. The last such case before the Supreme Court also concerned Mrs. Raich, who was one of fourteen patients the Oakland Cannabis Buyers’ Cooperative presented in arguing for a “medical necessity” exception to federal drug laws. The Supreme Court ruled against that argument, but said in doing so that it had not yet been presented with a case that would allow it to decide the constitutionality of applying the federal ban on marijuana to medical patients. Legal experts believe that the Raich case (No. 03-15481) could be the one to decide the issue.