Medical Pot Users Lose in U.S. Court
Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Author: Bob Egelko, Chronicle Staff Writer
Published: Tuesday, March 11, 2003
Copyright: 2003 San Francisco Chronicle - Page A - 17
Contact: [email protected]
California patients using local weed aren't exempt from federal drug laws, judge rules.
In another legal setback for medical marijuana in California, a federal judge says two patients who used locally grown pot with their doctors' approval could face prosecution under federal drug laws.
In a ruling made public Monday, U.S. District Judge Martin Jenkins expressed sympathy for the two women, for whom "traditional medicine has utterly failed." But he said the federal ban on marijuana applied to everyone, including patients using drugs that never cross state lines.
One plaintiff, Angel Raich of Oakland, suffers from painful and life- threatening conditions, including a brain tumor, wasting syndrome and a seizure disorder, said Robert Raich, her attorney and husband.
The second, Diane Monson of Oroville (Butte County), who uses marijuana to ease chronic back pain and muscle spasms, was the target of a raid in August in which federal agents seized and destroyed her six plants. Both say marijuana is the only substance that has helped them.
Neither has been prosecuted, but both filed civil suits in October seeking injunctions that would prohibit federal prosecution. Their attorneys said they would appeal.
Supporters of California's Proposition 215, the 1996 initiative that legalized medical marijuana under state law, were looking for a ruling that would shield individual patients from the federal crackdown conducted by both the Clinton and Bush administrations.
Their chief argument is that Congress' constitutional power to regulate interstate commerce -- the basis of the federal drug laws -- does not extend to marijuana that is grown, distributed and used within one state's borders, and is permitted by state law.
The U.S. Supreme Court steered clear of the interstate commerce issue when it ruled in 2001 that a medical marijuana club in Oakland could not avoid federal enforcement by claiming that its members had a medical need for the drug.
However, the claim that in-state marijuana is exempt from federal regulation has since been rejected by two federal judges, in the cases of the Oakland club and a Santa Cruz medical pot dispensary. Jenkins reached the same conclusion about individual patients.
The judge said Congress found that any distribution of illegal drugs ultimately affected interstate commerce and was subject to federal control. Jenkins said the federal appeals court in San Francisco, whose decisions are binding on him, accepted Congress' rationale in a 1990 ruling upholding the conviction of a defendant whose marijuana plants were found rooted in the ground.
He also rejected arguments that patients have a constitutional right to use marijuana to ease their pain and prolong their life. Jenkins cited past rulings denying access to substances determined by Congress to have no legitimate use, such as the purported cancer drug Laetrile.
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