Government Seeks Right to Resume Medical Marijuana Prosecutions

San Francisco   The government wants to roll back the decision by a federal appeals court panel that the prohibition on cannabis is unconstitutional when used to prosecute people who use it medicinally.

The Justice Department has asked for a rehearing by an 11-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals of the ruling by a three-judge panel, which found that the federal ban should not apply to those who use cannabis for medical purposes on their doctors' advice, obtain the medicine without buying it, and get it within their state's borders.  The government contends there should be no medical exceptions to the federal anti-marijuana laws.

“We shouldn’t be surprised,” said Steph Sherer, Executive Director of the national medical marijuana coalition, Americans for Safe Access. “This is the same Justice Department that tried to ban hemp granola as a dangerous drug. They lost that argument and they’ll lose this one, too.”

The December 16, 2003 decision in Raich vs. Ashcroft (Case No. 03-15481) was the first time a federal court had found a constitutional limitation to application of the Controlled Substances Act, the federal law that prohibits all use of marijuana. The court ruled that patients who grow their own or receive it free do not affect interstate commerce. Congress’s ability to regulate interstate commerce is the basis for federal drug laws. The December ruling applies to California and the six other states in the Ninth Circuit's jurisdiction that also have medical cannabis laws: Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.

The original lawsuit, filed in October 2002, sought an injunction against Attorney General John Ashcroft and the federal government to prohibit the prosecution of two medical cannabis patients – Angel McClary Raich and Diane Monson – and the anonymous caregivers who provide Mrs. Raich with cannabis.

Angel Raich has used cannabis for six years in her fight with an inoperable brain tumor, wasting syndrome, a seizure disorder and many other serious medical conditions.  According to her doctor, Frank Lucido M.D., she is unable to use other medications and would risk death without cannabis.

“The federal government has never disputed the fact that I would die without cannabis.  This administration claims to be pro-life, well what about being pro-my life”, said Angel Raich.

In August 2002, federal agents raided the Oroville home of Diane Monson, who uses marijuana to relieve severe chronic back pain and muscle spasms. After a dramatic standoff with local law enforcement who attempted to stop the action, the federal agents seized and destroyed her six cannabis plants.

The State of California along with Alameda and Butte counties and the City of Oakland; as well as the California Medical Association and the California Nurses Association all filed briefs supporting the case. 

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For interviews or more information, contact William Dolphin at (510) 919-1498 or [email protected]. A national coalition of 5,500 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