December 1, 2004

Court to Rule on Medical Marijuana

Traditional drugs have done little to help 39-year-old Angel Raich. Beset by ailments that include tumors in her brain, seizures, spasms and nausea, she has been able to find comfort only in the marijuana that is recommended by her doctor.

On Monday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case that will determine whether Ms. 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.

The case will address questions left unresolved from the first time the high court considered the legality of medical marijuana.

In 2001, the justices ruled against clubs that distributed medical marijuana, saying they cannot do so based on the "medical necessity" of the patient. The ruling forced Ms. Raich's Oakland supplier to close and other cannabis clubs to operate in the shadows.

The decision did not address whether the government can block states from adopting their own medical marijuana laws. Nevertheless, the government took the offensive after the ruling, often over objections of local officials. It began seizing individuals' medical marijuana and raiding their suppliers.

Last December, the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that federal laws criminalizing marijuana do not apply to patients whose doctors recommend it. The court also said states were free to adopt medical marijuana laws as long as the drug was not sold, transported across state lines or used for non-medicinal purposes.