Source: Anchorage Daily News (AK)
Author: Nicole Tsong, Anchorage Daily News
Published: November 30, 2004
Copyright: 2004 The Anchorage Daily News
Contact: [email protected]
Medical marijuana users in Alaska are watching the case before the U.S.
Supreme Court that could affect whether the federal government can
prosecute them for smoking pot at home for medical reasons even though
an Alaska law allows them to do so.
The Supreme Court heard arguments Monday from an attorney for two
California women, who sued the federal government after federal agents
confiscated marijuana plants from one of the women's yards. As in
Alaska, California allows ill people to use marijuana for medical
reasons with a doctor's recommendation.
The justices are considering whether federal agents can pursue people
who use homegrown marijuana for medical reasons, with approval from
their doctor and their state.
Alaskan Jim Welch, who is a registered user of medical marijuana and
uses it to control muscle spasms resulting from multiple sclerosis, said
he isn't worried about the case.
"I look at it as an opportunity to affirm the state's right to legislate
this," he said. "At worst they're going to say the federal government
has the right to intervene."
Welch, and former state legislator David Finkelstein who helped lead the
successful 1998 campaign to legalize medical marijuana in Alaska, both
believe the federal government will continue to focus their
drug-fighting resources on bigger criminal cases, not people who use
"Right now, the constant line you hear is marijuana is still illegal
under federal law no matter what states do," Finkelstein said. "So we're
basically left where we are."
Nearly 60 percent of Alaska voters approved the ballot initiative in
1998 that allows people to use marijuana for illnesses such as cancer,
AIDS, glaucoma, chronic pain, seizures and muscle spasms with a doctor's
recommendation. The law allows patients to grow limited amounts of
marijuana. Shortly after the initiative was passed, state lawmakers
curbed components of the new law, requiring users to register with the
state although the original initiative made the registry optional. It
also limited possession of marijuana to one ounce, and six marijuana
plants. The initiative allowed patients to seek more.
The state has 182 registered medical marijuana users on its confidential
list, and in total has issued 524 registrations since the inception of
the registry, according to the Division of Public Health's Bureau of
Finkelstein estimates there are thousands of medical marijuana users in
Alaska, many of whom aren't registered because they can't find a doctor
to give the recommendation or don't want to register with the state. The
registration is intended to protect users from arrest.
He said the Supreme Court case doesn't resolve other issues, such as
buying marijuana or seeds, which is illegal.
The Supreme Court is not expected to make a decision for months. If the
court comes down on the side of medical marijuana users, it could help
users in Alaska with issues such as obtaining marijuana, Finkelstein
said. If the justices side with the federal government, it will give
proponents an answer on whether prosecutors can go after them.
But Finkelstein said he does not know of any case in Alaska where the
federal government has prosecuted a medical marijuana user under federal
Instead, he thinks the case "shows how the medical marijuana issue has
risen in public awareness," he said. "It's become a symbolic issue on
states rights versus federal drug law."
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