Pubdate: Sun, 28 Nov 2004
Source: Columbia Daily Tribune (MO)
Copyright: 2004 Columbia Daily Tribune
Note: Prints the street address of LTE writers.
Cited: Raich v. Ashcroft
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Angel Raich)


Department of Justice Argues Medical Marijuana Is Illegal.

WASHINGTON - The marijuana she smokes every two waking hours makes
life bearable for Angel Raich. It eases the pain from an inoperable
brain tumor, scoliosis and several other permanent disabilities. It's
the only thing her doctors will prescribe because she has severe
allergies that cause violent reactions to traditional medicine.

In Oakland, Calif., where Raich lives, that's no problem. A 1996 state
law permits patients to grow and smoke marijuana on doctors'

But tomorrow, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case
that's likely to settle a conflict between that California law and a
1970 federal ban on illegal drugs.

The Department of Justice says federal authority is supreme in this
matter, and the Drug Enforcement Administration already has raided one
California patient's house and destroyed her cannabis plants. If the
court favors the government's view, more raids would follow in the 11
mostly Western states that have legalized medical marijuana.

Anti-drug groups support the federal government, saying approving
medical marijuana could boost support for the recreational use of drugs.

Raich and her supporters say medical marijuana is a matter for the
states to decide and for doctors to decide for their patients.

"Without cannabis, my life would be a death sentence," Raich, 39, says
on a Web site about her struggle. "Cannabis was responsible for
getting me out of my wheelchair and restoring mobility on the whole
right side of my body. For years, I felt as if I were suffering in
hell. I will not go back to hell for anyone or anything."

The case is one of the most watched on the Supreme Court's docket this
term, one that involves the justices in a high-profile social issue
and tests court conservatives' commitment to a line of decisions that
restrain federal intrusion into state matters.

It began in California in 2002, when DEA officers raided the Oroville
home of Diane Monson, who was growing marijuana in her garden to ease
back pain. The raid at Monson's home - and several others - was tied
to a crackdown on medical marijuana inspired, in part, by the war on
terrorism. President George W. Bush has said the illegal drug trade
helps finance terrorists.

Monson, 47, joined Raich in suing to prevent the government from
enforcing federal drug laws against those who use marijuana for
medical purposes.

A federal district court sided with the government, but the Ninth U.S.
Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco - generally considered one
of the nation's most liberal benches - struck an unusually
conservative blow in saying this was a state issue in which the
federal government shouldn't have authority. Medical marijuana, the
court said, "constitutes a separate and distinct class of activities"
that's "beyond Congress' power."

The court said the intrastate, noncommercial cultivation of marijuana
for medical purposes wasn't the same as growing it to sell for
recreational use.

The justice department then appealed to the Supreme

Eleven states, mainly in the far West, have enacted medical marijuana
laws: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana,
Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington.

Advocates say the laws mark a growing respect for individual liberty,
particularly in the West, and for states' rights. They're linked in
spirit to laws such as Oregon's assisted-suicide provision, which also
could be reviewed by the high court next year.

Under Chief Justice William Rehnquist, the high court generally has
favored state authority over federal influence, establishing a long
line of cases that have reduced Congress' authority to regulate
interstate commerce. Congress famously used its control over
interstate commerce to buttress the civil rights movement of the
1960s, but court conservatives since that time have said the
Constitution's commerce clause doesn't justify all expanded notions of
federal authority.

Civil libertarians say the medical marijuana case should be easy for
the justices to decide, based on their past view of federal authority.
The 1970 federal Controlled Substances Act is an overreach of
Congress' power, they say.

The Supreme Court took a stab at curbing marijuana use in 2001 when it
ruled against clubs that distributed medical marijuana, which the
clubs had deemed a "medical necessity." The ruling forced Raich's
supplier to close but left unsettled whether federal authorities could
block states from permitting marijuana to be used for medical reasons.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake