Source: Houston Chronicle (TX)
Author: Daniel Abrahamson
Published: December 01, 2004
Copyright: 2004 Houston Chronicle
Contact: [email protected]
Angel Raich was confined to a wheelchair and unable to even hug her
daughter when a nurse mentioned a medication that she had never
considered. Raich, who suffers from multiple debilitating conditions,
including an inoperable brain tumor, scoliosis and fibromyalgia, had
tried 30 medicines, none of which had helped alleviate her pain.
Raich, 39, who calls herself a proper conservative mom, had never smoked
marijuana in her life, and was taken aback at the nurse's suggestion
that she try medical cannabis. But nothing else was working, so Raich
finally relented and tried it. Raich can now walk, hold down food and
play with her family. She credits the medicine with saving her life.
In the U.S. Supreme Court this week, oral arguments were heard regarding
Raich's right to use her medicine without fear of federal prosecution or
arrest. The case, Raich v. Ashcroft, was brought by her and another
seriously ill California patient, Diane Monson, who seek to prevent
federal law enforcement officials from seizing their herbal medicine and
arresting them for violating federal drug laws.
Raich uses medical marijuana in California, one of the 10 states that
have enacted laws in the past eight years permitting seriously ill
patients to use medical marijuana to relieve their suffering per their
physician's recommendation. These laws were passed against the vocal
opposition of the federal government.
The Supreme Court's decision could have many different implications.
Should the court rule in the Raich patients' favor, their victory may
dramatically redraw the lines of federal police powers and further
empower states and their individual citizens — to pursue policies and
engage in a wide array of conduct free from federal government
Should the court rule against the Raich patients, the status quo will
almost certainly prevail. Namely, the medical marijuana laws that have
been passed will remain on the books, and patients in those states will
continue to receive the various protections conferred by those laws. If
the Raich patients lose, the only question will be whether, when and how
the federal government will use federal police, prosecutors and courts
to move against individual patients to deprive them of their
If recent history is any guide, it appears that federal officials lack
either the will or the resources to arrest or prosecute more than a
small handful of the tens of thousands of persons currently using
medical marijuana around the country, perhaps because federal juries are
reluctant to convict sick persons for using a medicine that relieves
their pain. Of course, even a single federal prosecution of a sick
person for using a physician-recommended medication is too many; but as
a practical matter, the average medical marijuana patient in compliance
with their state law will have little to fear from the federal police.
But the court also has an important opportunity to decide the Raich case
by appealing to principles of fundamental liberty embodied in the
federal Constitution: namely, the right to be free from unnecessary pain
and suffering. This should prevent the federal government from being
able to come between a seriously ill patient and their
physician-recommended medicine. The Drug Policy Alliance, on behalf of
various medical and public health organizations, including the
California Medical Association and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, is
asking the Supreme Court to embrace this important liberty interest and
to prevent federal drug agents from arresting Angel Raich and Diane
Monson or destroying their medicine.
While the Raich case is ostensibly about medical marijuana, the Supreme
Court's decision in that case will have far less impact on medical
marijuana than on other areas of jurisprudence. Medical marijuana laws
are firmly implanted in several states and will likely spread to other
states, and no ruling in the Raich case can alter this fact. But the
high court's decision in this case will help determine the power of the
federal police and, directly or indirectly, speak to the rights of
individuals to remain free from serious, debilitating pain even when
doing so raises the moral ire of the federal government.
Hopefully, Angel Raich and her family will be able to rest easy.
Abrahamson is director of Legal Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance and
co-author of a brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in the Raich case on
behalf of the California Medical Association and other medical and
public health organizations.
Several implications seen in medical marijuana ruling.
The brief can be viewed at:
Related Articles & Web Site:
Angel Raich v. Ashcroft News
Supreme Court Looks at Medical Marijuana
Medical Marijuana Case Tests Limits of Federalism
Testing The Limits of Big Government
Supreme Court Hears Oral Argument on MMJ