Pubdate: Thu, 14 Oct 2004
Source: Sacramento Bee (CA)
Copyright: 2004 The Sacramento Bee
Author: Claire Cooper, Bee Legal Affairs Writer
Cited: Raich v. Ashcroft ( )
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - California)


3 Southern officials say the U.S. lacks the right to limit such
private use.

As final briefs were filed Wednesday in a critical medical marijuana
test case, set for argument in the U.S. Supreme Court next month,
California got some unlikely allies.

A trio of Southern attorneys general submitted a brief saying that
when states decide to let their citizens light up, the federal
government should butt out.

"The question presented here is not whether vigorous enforcement of
the nation's drug laws is a good criminal policy. It most assuredly
is," says the brief filed by Alabama and joined by Mississippi and

"The question, rather, is whether the Constitution permits the federal
government, under the guise of regulating interstate commerce, to
criminalize the purely local possession of marijuana for personal
medicinal use. It does not."

Among the states filing the friend-of-the-court brief, only Louisiana
permits even the most limited use of marijuana as medicine.

Alabama, which makes about 10,000 arrests each year for marijuana
possession, made it clear that it considers California's medical pot
law "profoundly misguided."

But the states-rights brief said all states have a fundamental right
to regulate their citizens' health, safety, welfare and morals, and
the federal government should stop interfering.

As expected, California's attorney general, Bill Lockyer, also filed a
brief, urging the Supreme Court to leave room for state medical pot

His friend-of-the-court brief, filed Wednesday, was signed by the
attorneys general of Maryland and Washington state, which also have
medical pot laws.

More surprising, however, was support for the pro-pot side of the case
from the conservative Pacific Legal Foundation, which filed a brief
earlier on what is viewed as the key legal issue - the scope of the
federal government's power to regulate interstate commerce.

Though the Sacramento-based foundation pointedly weighed in on the
case "in support of neither party," its brief says the federal power
should extend only to endeavors that are economic and substantially
affect interstate commerce.

Known as Ashcroft v. Raich, the case was initiated by two Northern
California medical pot patients, Angel Raich of Oakland and Diane
Monson of Oroville.

Monson grows her pot in her small garden. Raich receives hers from two
anonymous grower-caregivers, also parties in the case, who reportedly
scrupulously avoid involvement with commercial drug traffic.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in the plaintiffs' favor,
saying their activity appeared to be noncommercial and, therefore,
probably was beyond the federal government's legal reach.

The court directed a judge to enjoin U.S. Attorney General John
Ashcroft and other federal agents from interfering with Raich's and
Monson's pot supplies.

If the Supreme Court upholds the ruling, it could provide a blueprint
for state-sanctioned medical marijuana operations that have been
plagued by federal raids, arrests and seizures of drugs and other assets.

The federal government outlined its legal position when it filed its
brief two months ago.

The brief argues that even purely local marijuana possession and
distribution directly affect the nation's $10.5 billion-a-year illegal
pot market.

It cites the flat ban on marijuana in the 1970 U.S. Controlled
Substances Act and argues that in passing the law, Congress determined
that local drugs "contribute to swelling the interstate (drug) traffic."

Lockyer's brief takes on that argument. It says the federal statute
was aimed at hard-core narcotics pushers and was enacted 26 years
before the first medical pot laws were passed in California and Arizona.

The 1970 Congress "could not have determined that state-regulated,
personal medicinal marijuana usage had an effect on the interstate
marijuana trafficking as a whole, because there was no state-regulated
medical marijuana program in existence at the time," the brief says.
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