Medical Marijuana Activists Looking Beyond Supreme Court

Washington, D.C.   In the most-watched case before the U.S. Supreme Court this term, two California women will argue Monday that the federal government does not have the right to punish them for using the medical marijuana their doctors recommend and their state says is legal. But activists are looking beyond the Court’s decision in Ashcroft vs.

Raich, pushing formal petitions that would force federal agencies to recognize medical uses for marijuana and allow doctors to prescribe it.

“We can’t lose,” said Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the medical marijuana advocacy group. “The Supreme Court has a chance to resolve the conflict between federal and state laws by upholding the exception for medical use. But state protections will remain in place regardless of the Court’s decision.” Currently a dozen states have medical marijuana laws that shield patients.

“It’s time for action to protect all Americans.  We’ve asked the appropriate federal agencies to acknowledge the weight of scientific evidence and approve it for medical use.”

The federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the FDA are currently reviewing two legal petitions with broad implications for medical marijuana. The first, brought by ASA under the Data Quality Act, says HHS must correct its statements that there is no medical use for marijuana to reflect the many studies which have found it helpful for many conditions. Acknowledging legitimate medical use would then force the agency to consider allowing the prescribing of marijuana as they do other drugs, based on its relative safety. A decision on the Data Quality Act petition is due December 6.

A separate petition, of which ASA is a co-signer, asks the Drug Enforcement Administration for a full, formal re-evaluation of marijuana’s medical benefits, based on hundreds of recent medical research studies and several thousand years of documented human use. This petition is pending.

“The scientific evidence is clear and compelling,” said Ms. Sherer. “Marijuana is safe, effective medicine for many conditions. Doctors are recommending it, patients are benefiting from it, and the public supports it.”

The December 16, 2003 decision in Raich vs. Ashcroft (Ninth Circuit Case No. 03-15481) was the first time a federal court had found a constitutional limitation to the federal prohibition 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 ruling currently applies to California and the seven other states in the Ninth Circuit's jurisdiction that allow medical cannabis use: Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and, as of the last election, Montana.

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For interviews or more information, contact Steph Sherer at (510) 872-7822. For legal questions, contact ASA staff attorney Joe Elford at (415) 573-7842. 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, see