Pubdate: Mon, 14 May 2001
Source: Associated Press (Wire)
Copyright: 2001 Associated Press


The Supreme Court handed medical marijuana users a major defeat 
Monday,   ruling that a federal law classifying the drug as illegal 
has no exception
for ill patients. The 8-0 decision was a major disappointment to many
sufferers of AIDS, cancer, multiple sclerosis and   other illnesses.
They have said the drug helped enormously in combatting the
devastating effects of their   diseases.

Justice Stephen Breyer did not participate because his brother, a
federal judge, initially presided over the   case. ``In the case of
the Controlled Substances Act, the statute reflects a determination
that marijuana has no   medical benefits worthy of an exception
(outside the confines of a government-approved research project),''
Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the unanimous court.

Thomas noted the act states marijuana has ``no currently accepted
medical use.'' The federal government triggered the case in 1998,
seeking an injunction against the Oakland Cannabis   Buyers
Cooperative and five other marijuana distributors.

U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer, brother of the justice, sided with
the government. All the clubs except   the Oakland group eventually
closed down, and the Oakland club turned to registering potential
marijuana   recipients while it awaited a final ruling. The 9th U.S.
Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the lower court, ruling that medical
necessity is a legal   defense. Charles Breyer followed up by issuing
strict guidelines for making that claim. Voters in Arizona, Alaska,
California, Colorado, Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Washington also have
approved ballot initiatives allowing the use of medical marijuana. In
Hawaii, the legislature passed a similar   law and the governor signed
it last year. The cooperative argued that a drug may not yet have
achieved general acceptance as a medical treatment, but   may still
have medical benefits to a particular patient or class of patients.
Thomas said the argument cannot overcome the intent of Congress in
approving the statute.

``It is clear from the text of the act that Congress has made a
determination that marijuana has no medical   benefits worthy of an
exception,'' Thomas wrote.

``Unwilling to view this omission as an accident, and unable in any
event to override a legislative   determination manifest in a statute,
we reject the cooperative's argument.'' Advocates of medical marijuana
say the drug can ease side effects from chemotherapy, save nauseated
AIDS patients from wasting away or even allow multiple sclerosis
sufferers to rise from a wheelchair and   walk.

There is no definitive science that the drug works, or works better
than conventional, legal alternatives.

Several states are considering medical marijuana laws, and Congress
may revisit the issue this year. A   measure to counteract laws like
California's died in the House last year.

Thomas was joined by Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Sandra Day
O'Connor, Antonin Scalia and   Anthony M. Kennedy. Justice John Paul
Stevens wrote a concurring opinion, joined by Justices David Souter
and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The case is United States v. Oakland Cannabis Buyers Cooperative,
- ---
MAP posted-by: Andrew