Supreme Court Takes Key Medical Marijuana Case

The U.S. Supreme Court today announced it will take up a landmark California case that recently established a medical exception to the federal prohibition on marijuana. In December 2003, a federal appeals court in San Francisco ruled in the case of two California women and their caregivers that federal prosecutions of many medical marijuana patients and their caregivers are unconstitutional. That precedent has already affected many other medical marijuana cases.

The Bush Administration is asking the Supreme Court to overturn the December ruling of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Raich v. Ashcroft, which found that the federal government lacks jurisdiction under the Constitution to interfere with patients who use, grow or possess marijuana in compliance with their state’s law. The Supreme Court appeal case is John D. Ashcroft, Attorney General, et al., v. Angel McClary Raich, et al. (No. 03-1454). The case is likely to be argued this winter.
“The Supreme Court has a chance to protect the rights of patients everywhere who need medical cannabis to treat their afflictions,” said Steph Sherer, Executive Director of the advocacy group Americans for Safe Access. “Too many have gone to prison, and too many have been denied access to the medication their doctors recommend.”
The Ninth Circuit ruling resolves the conflict between state and federal laws, protecting state-legal patients and caregivers from harsh federal laws that mandate long minimum prison sentences, even for first-time offenders. In the Raich case, the appellate court found that so long as patients obtain their cannabis without buying it or crossing state borders and use it medicinally in compliance with state law, the federal government cannot legally interfere. 
At the direction of the appeals court, on May 16th U.S. District Judge Martin Jenkins issued a preliminary injunction against the arrest or prosecution of Angel McClary Raich, a 38-year-old Oakland mother of two, Diane Monson of Oroville, and the two anonymous caregivers who provide Mrs. Raich with cannabis.
Mrs. Raich, lead plaintiff, 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.
Ms. Monson, co-plaintiff, uses marijuana to relieve severe chronic back pain and muscle spasms. In August 2002, federal agents raided her Oroville home. After a dramatic standoff with local law enforcement, who attempted to stop the action, the federal agents seized and destroyed her six cannabis plants.
Americans for Safe Access, the largest advocacy group working solely on medical marijuana, can provide reporters with interviews and comment on this important decision from the principals in the lawsuit, Angel Raich and Diane Monson, as well as affected patients, advocates, and doctors. We can also provide expert legal analysis through our staff attorney, Constitutional law expert Joseph Elford.
This ruling has already had far-reaching effects in federal courts. The following cases have all cited the Raich decision as controlling precedent:
On March 22, a federal judge decided that Anna and Gary Barrett, a San Bernardino County couple, would be the first federal defendants who are allowed to tell a jury that the marijuana they grew was for medicinal purposes.  
On April 1, Keith Alden became the first medical marijuana prisoner released from federal prison pending appeal under Raich.  He is also being permitted use of cannabis while on release.
On April 21, a federal judge issues an injunction against federal interference with the Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana, a collective garden in Santa Cruz. 
On June 16, the Ninth Circuit heard the appeal of Bryan Epis, the first medical marijuana patient to be prosecuted federally following the passage of California’s state medical marijuana law. 
On June 19, the Ninth Circuit sent back to the district judges for reconsideration four cases involving the distribution of medical marijuana through cooperatives and other cannabis dispensaries.
The following individuals are available for interviews or comment.   Please contact William Dolphin at 510-919-1498 to make arrangements.
Angel Raich, lead plaintiff.
Diane Monson, co-plaintiff.
Joseph Elford is a Constitutional law expert and staff attorney for Americans for Safe Access. He worked on the Ed Rosenthal case and is currently training Public Defenders on the law related to medical marijuana.
Steph Sherer is the Executive Director and co-founder of Americans for Safe Access. Sherer is a medical marijuana patient and an expert on the science of medicinal marijuana and the politics influencing policy reform at the state and national levels.  
Michael Alcalay, M.D. is a HIV survivor, physician, and medical marijuana patient. He has provided expert testimony on medical marijuana in numerous court cases and has over seven years experience as the medical director of the Oakland Cannabis Buyers Cooperative. 
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.