Court Orders Feds to Stay Away From Medical Marijuana Patients

May 18, 2004

San Francisco (Tuesday, May 18, 2004) – The medical cannabis patients who won a landmark case against John Ashcroft last December today got the legal protection they sought.

Based on that federal appellate court ruling, a judge has issued a preliminary injunction against the federal government, preventing it from pursuing either Angel McClary Raich or her co-plaintiffs -- Diane Monson and the two anonymous caregivers who provide Mrs. Raich with cannabis.

In a precedent-setting decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled last December 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 three-judge panel directed the District Court to issue a preliminary injunction.

On May 14, 2004, U.S. District Judge Martin Jenkins cited that ruling in issuing a preliminary injunction against the government. His order notes that “In Raich v. Ashcroft, 352 Fed. 3d 1222 (9th Cir. 2003), the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that the Plaintiffs have demonstrated a strong likelihood that ‘as applied to them, the [Controlled Substances Act] is an unconstitutional exercise of Congress’ Commerce Clause authority.’”

“The sick and dying have enough to deal with without having 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 case was the first instance of the federal ban on marijuana being ruled unconstitutional and has already had far-reaching effects. Based on the Raich ruling, a similar injunction protecting a medical cannabis cooperative in Santa Cruz is expected soon.  The first federal prisoner to be released pending appeal based on Raich is also being permitted to use cannabis as recommended by his doctor while on release.  And a couple awaiting federal trial in Los Angeles will be the first to present what the judge there called a “Raich defense”-- evidence that their cannabis was medical.

“I am elated knowing that I am the first medical cannabis patient to be protected by the judicial branch of government,” said Angel Raich.  “I take comfort knowing that my children and I are now safe, and that my case has set a precedent for other patients around the country. 

The Justice Department last month petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for a review of that Ninth Circuit decision.  The case is widely expected to be taken up by the court, and may be heard as later this year.  Until then the appellate courts ruling is 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.

The last such medical cannabis case before the U.S. Supreme Court also concerned Mrs. Raich, who was one of fourteen medical necessity 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 could be the one to decide the issue.

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For interviews or more information, contact William Dolphin at (510) 919-1498. A national coalition of 10,000 patients, doctors and advocates, Americans for Safe Access is the largest organization working solely on medical marijuana.  To learn more about the Raich vs. Ashcroft case, go to www.angeljustice.org.



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