State Medical Marijuana Laws Remain Valid Despite U.S. Supreme Court Ruling in Gonzales v. Raich, ACLU Says

June 6, 2005 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON -- In response to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling today in Gonzales v. Raich, that the federal government can enforce federal laws prohibiting the cultivation, possession, and use of medical marijuana even in states where medical marijuana is legal under state law, the American Civil Liberties Union urged state and local governments to protect individual patients and their caregivers.

"The power of state governments to enact and enforce state medical marijuana laws is not affected by the Supreme Court's ruling," said Allen Hopper, a staff attorney with the ACLU's Drug Law Reform Project. "State laws allowing the use of medical marijuana still offer patients significant protection."

In its decision, the Court overturned the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that the federal government could not enforce federal marijuana laws against the cultivation, possession and use of medical marijuana by the plaintiffs, Angel Raich and Diane Monson. Angel Raich suffers from several conditions that cause severe, chronic pain, including an inoperable brain tumor, fibromyalgia, endometriosis, scoliosis, uterine fibroid tumors and rotator cuff syndrome. Her doctor warned the Court that she is likely to die if unable to use medical marijuana. Medical marijuana is also the only effective treatment that eliminates Diane Monson's severe back pain and spasms.

Gonzales v. Raich is the U.S. Supreme Court's latest look at the medical marijuana issue. In a case brought by the ACLU and others, Walters v. Conant, the Court chose to let stand the Ninth Circuit's ruling that under the First Amendment doctors can recommend and discuss medical marijuana with patients.

Valerie Corral was one of the plaintiffs in the Conant case and founded the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana (WAMM), a Santa Cruz, California-based hospice center that supplies medical marijuana to critically ill patients. The Drug Enforcement Administration raided WAMM in 2002. After the Ninth Circuit's ruling in Raich, a federal district court granted an injunction protecting WAMM from further federal raids and prosecution. After today's ruling, however, WAMM members fear that the injunction will be lifted.

In oral arguments last November in the Raich case, Justice Stephen Breyer suggested that patients ask the Food and Drug Administration to reclassify marijuana for medical use as "the obvious way to get what they want," adding, "Medicine by regulation is better than medicine by referendum."

The ACLU, however, pointed out in a recent legal challenge to the DEA that the federal government has a policy of obstructing research that could lead to the development of marijuana as a legal prescription medicine.

"Doctors and patients would like to take Justice Breyer up on his proposal to develop marijuana as a medicine through the FDA approval process," said Allen Hopper. "But the government's idea of 'medicine by regulation,' is to obstruct research. Now more than ever, Congress and local and state governments need to take action to protect patients and their caregivers."

Eleven states have enacted laws allowing patients to use medical marijuana, and a recent CNN/Time poll reported that 80 percent of Americans favor giving patients access to medical marijuana.

Information is available online for the ACLU's legal challenge to the DEA, In the Matter of Lyle Craker (/cpredirect/10788) and the Walters v. Conant case (/node/8759).

The ACLU's legal analysis of the decision is available online at: /node/34944.

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