Pubdate: Sun, 28 Nov 2004
Source: Chicago Sun-Times (IL)
Copyright: 2004 The Sun-Times Co.
Author: David Kravets, Associated Press
Cited: Raich v. Ashcroft
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Angel Raich)


OAKLAND, Calif. -- Traditional drugs have done little to help 39-year-old 
Angel Raich.

Beset by a nightmarish list of ailments, including tumors in her brain and 
uterus, seizures, spasms and nausea, she has been able to find comfort only 
in the marijuana recommended by her doctor.

It eases her pain, allows her to rise out of a wheelchair and promotes an 
appetite that prevents her from wasting away.

Her Berkeley physician, Frank Lucido, said marijuana "is the only drug of 
almost three dozen we have tried that works."

California Law Was First

Monday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case that will determine 
whether Raich and similar patients in California and 10 other states can 
continue to use marijuana for medical purposes.

At issue is whether federal drug agents can arrest individuals for abiding 
by those medical marijuana laws.

California passed the nation's first medical marijuana law in 1996, 
allowing patients to smoke and grow marijuana with a doctor's 
recommendation. The Bush administration says those laws violate federal 
drug rules and asserts that marijuana has no medical value.

"I really hope and pray the justices allow me to live," Raich said as she 
crammed marijuana into a contraption that vaporized it inside large balloons.

Clubs Forced into Shadows

The case will address questions left unresolved from the first time the 
high court considered the legality of medical marijuana.

In 2001, the justices ruled against clubs that distributed medical 
marijuana, saying they cannot do so based on the "medical necessity" of the 
patient. The ruling forced Raich's Oakland supplier to close and other 
cannabis clubs to operate in the shadows.

The decision did not address whether the government can block states from 
adopting their own medical marijuana laws.

The federal government took the offensive after the ruling, often over the 
objections of local officials. It began seizing individuals' medical 
marijuana and raiding their suppliers.

Nowhere was that effort more conspicuous than in the San Francisco Bay 
area, where the nation's medical marijuana movement was founded.

Raich and Diane Monson, the other plaintiff in the case, sued Attorney 
General John Ashcroft because they feared their supplies of medical 
marijuana might dry up. After a two-year legal battle, they won injunctions 
barring the U.S. Justice Department from prosecuting them or their suppliers.

"This has been a nightmare," said Monson, a 47-year-old Oroville accountant 
whose backyard crop of six marijuana plants was seized in 2002. "I've never 
sued anyone in my life, never mind the attorney general of the United 
States of America. For crying out loud, here in California we've voted to 
allow medical marijuana."

She regularly uses marijuana on a doctor's recommendation to alleviate back 

Appeals Court Rules in Favor

Last December, the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals 
ruled in Raich's and Monson's favor. It said federal laws criminalizing 
marijuana do not apply to patients whose doctors have recommended the drug.

The appeals court said states were free to adopt medical marijuana laws as 
long as the marijuana was not sold, transported across state lines or used 
for non-medicinal purposes. The other states with such laws are Alaska, 
Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and 

The court ruled that marijuana for medicinal purposes is "different in kind 
from drug trafficking" and outside the scope of federal oversight. The same 
court last year said doctors were free to recommend marijuana to their 
patients. The government appealed, but the Supreme Court justices declined 
to hear the case.

Cites Rehnquist's Plight

In June, however, the justices agreed to hear the Raich- Monson case. A 
ruling is expected to decide the states' rights issue the court left 
unanswered in 2001.

Acting Solicitor General Paul Clement told the justices in briefs that the 
government, backed by the 1970 Controlled Substances Act, has the power to 
regulate the "manufacture, distribution and possession of any controlled 
substance," even if such activity takes place entirely within one state.

Raich said she hopes the chemotherapy Chief Justice William Rehnquist is 
undergoing for thyroid cancer "would soften his heart about the issue.

"I think he would find that cannabis would help him a lot." 
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