First Constitutional Challenge to Medical Marijuana Charges

Los Angeles For the first time, a criminal prosecution of medical marijuana patients is facing a challenge on constitutional grounds that could lead to dismissal of all charges.

At a hearing on Monday in federal district court in Los Angeles, an attorney for the medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access will argue that the prosecution of a Victorville couple is unconstitutional under a recent ruling by a federal appeals court.

The judge, Nora M. Manella, requested briefs on the constitutional question after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a civil case that the federal arrest and prosecution of medical cannabis patients is unconstitutional. In that case, Raich vs. Ashcroft, the appellate court ruled in December that so long as patients obtain the marijuana without buying it or crossing state borders and use it medicinally in compliance with state law, the federal government cannot legally interfere. The case was the first instance of a court finding an aspect of the federal ban on marijuana to be unconstitutional and led to an injunction against future federal arrest and prosecution.

The hearing Monday involves federal criminal charges against Anna Barrett, 32, and Gary Barrett, 35, whose home was raided by federal DEA agents in May 2003, within days of having state marijuana cultivation charges dismissed. Both have doctor's recommendations to use marijuana for medical purposes. Gary Barrett suffers from Crohn's disease, a potentially fatal digestive tract disorder, and Anna Barrett uses marijuana to control the chronic pain she has suffered since she fell five stories from a London hotel balcony in 1995, while on their honeymoon.

Under the terms of a state probation order issued in July 2000 after an earlier arrest by San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies for cultivating medical marijuana, the Barretts are expressly allowed to grow 34 adult flowering plants, as well as an undefined number of immature plants, and keep up to 7.1 pounds of dried medicine. The Barretts are free on $20,000 bond each. The case is #CR03-457-NM.

WHAT:     Hearing on motion to dismiss federal marijuana cultivation charges as unconstitutional

WHEN:     Monday, March 22nd at 1:30pm

WHERE:   Courtroom of the Hon. Judge Nora M. Manella, U.S. District Court for the Central District, Courtroom 11, 312 Spring Street, Los Angeles

WHO:        Medical marijuana patients Anna and Gary Barrett. Appearing on behalf of the Barretts to argue the motion to dismiss, Joseph Elford, constitutional law expert and staff attorney for Americans for Safe Access

                                                                                                                 # # #        

For more information, contact William Dolphin at (510) 919-1498. A national coalition of 5,500 patients, doctors and advocates, Americans for Safe Access is the largest organization working solely on medical marijuana.