Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Author: Bob Egelko, Chronicle Staff Writer
Published: Sunday, November 28, 2004 - Page A - 12
Copyright: 2004 San Francisco Chronicle
Contact: [email protected]
Angel Raich voted for California's Proposition 215 in 1996 because she
thought medical marijuana might help others.
Then came the night, a year later, when Raich steered her wheelchair
into the bedroom of her sobbing 9-year-old daughter, who asked her, "Why
can't you do the things that other mommies do?''
Partially paralyzed, in constant pain from multiple disorders and
desperate for help after trying nearly three dozen doctor-prescribed
medications, the 30-year-old woman, a product of a conservative
upbringing that made her recoil from illegal drugs, decided pot "might
be my last shot.''
It worked. Raich regained her appetite, felt less pain, got out of her
wheelchair 18 months later and embarked on a career of advocacy for
herself and other patients that has led her to the U.S. Supreme Court.
On Monday, the court will hear the case of Ashcroft vs. Raich, a clash
of federal and state powers that could determine the future of medical
marijuana in the United States.
Lawyers for Raich and co-plaintiff Diane Monson argue that their use of
marijuana -- obtained from within California, without any cost or
commercial transaction, under procedures regulated by state law -- is
exempt from federal drug laws because the Constitution allows Congress
to regulate only interstate commerce.
Government lawyers contend all marijuana use is part of illicit drug
traffic that affects interstate commerce. While denying that marijuana
has any legitimate use, the government says any claimed medical benefits
are legally available in a pill called Marinol, which has the same
Before filing her suit in 2002, Raich tried Marinol. It made her sick.
"I haven't had a pain-free minute in years,'' she said in an interview
in the Oakland home she shares with her husband and lawyer, Robert Raich,
and her teenage son and daughter from an earlier marriage.
She's suffered back pain from scoliosis and pelvic pain from
endometriosis since her teenage years. She became partially paralyzed
from an allergic reaction to doctor-recommended birth control pills in
Since then, she's been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, a
seizure disorder and a wasting syndrome. She keeps 98 to 100 pounds on
her 5- foot-4 frame only by gorging on high-calorie foods and using
marijuana to maintain her appetite.
Medical cannabis, as Raich calls it, doesn't eliminate her pain but
makes it "easier to cope. ... I don't get high. There's no euphoric
effect. I do not like using it.''
Still, she takes her pipe everywhere, even to the Oakland Police
Department, where she's worked with officers on their encounters with
medical marijuana patients. She also vaporizes the drug, mixes it with
massage oils, or bakes it in zucchini bread, which she eats in large
quantities before a rare and agonizing plane trip like her journey to
Washington for Monday's hearing.
Raich, now 39, has a doctor's recommendation for marijuana, as required
by Prop. 215, and says she needs the medication every two hours. She
wakes up in pain every morning and requires help getting out of bed. She
uses 8 pounds of marijuana a year and gets it for free from two
caregivers -- "my heroes'' -- in thanks for her work as an advocate.
Her previous supplier, an Oakland marijuana cooperative, was shut down
by the federal government and challenged the action in court, claiming
that federal law allowed it to distribute the drug to gravely ill
patients who had no legal alternative. That case also reached the
Supreme Court, which ruled in the government's favor in 2001.
Raich, who took part in the case, said she heard Justice Department
staffers discussing plans after the hearing to step up their enforcement
in California. Determined to stop them, she and her allies decided on a
pre- emptive lawsuit -- "my way of putting on a defense without being
raided.'' She also enlisted Monson, whose marijuana plants in Oroville
(Butte County) had been seized by federal agents in August 2002.
Carrying the banner for thousands of patients in 10 states with medical
marijuana laws, Raich professes confidence in her case but reckons the
suit has also made her a target, with prosecution and a prison sentence
likely if she loses. She said she has her daughter's permission to leave
the country if necessary.
"I plan to fight this if it takes my very last breath,'' she said. "It's
time for the federal government to stay out of patients' lives.''
Chronicle staff writer Patrick Hoge contributed to this report.
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