November 30, 2004

Supreme Court Weighs Medical-Marijuana Laws

Some patients say the outcome of the case Monday is essentially a matter of life or death.

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OAKLAND, Calif. - Traditional drugs have done little to help 39-year-old Angel Raich.

Beset by a nightmarish list of ailments that includes tumors in her brain and uterus, seizures, spasms and nausea, she has been able to find comfort only in the marijuana that is recommended by her doctor.

It eases her pain, allows her to rise out of a wheelchair and promotes an appetite that prevents her from wasting away.

Her Berkeley physician, Frank Lucido, said marijuana "is the only drug of almost three dozen we have tried that works."

On Monday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case that will determine whether Raich and similar patients in California and 10 other states can continue to use marijuana for medical purposes.

At issue is whether states have the right to adopt laws allowing the use of drugs the federal government has banned or whether federal drug agents can arrest individuals for abiding by those medical-marijuana laws.

"I really hope and pray the justices allow me to live," said Raich as she crammed a blend of a marijuana variety known as "Haze X" into a contraption that vaporized it inside large balloons.

She said the outcome of the case will determine whether her "husband will have a wife," her "children a mother."

Last December, the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Raich and Diane Monson, the other plaintiff in the case. It said federal laws criminalizing marijuana do not apply to patients whose doctors have recommended the drug.

The appeals court said states were free to adopt medical- marijuana laws as long as the marijuana was not sold, transported across state lines or used for nonmedicinal purposes. The other states with such laws are Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington.

The court ruled that marijuana for medicinal purposes is "different in kind from drug trafficking" and outside the scope of federal oversight.

The same court last year said doctors were free to recommend marijuana to their patients. The government appealed, but the Supreme Court justices declined to hear the case.