Pubdate: Tue, 30 Nov 2004
Source: Wall Street Journal (US)
Copyright: 2004 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Author: Mark H. Anderson, Dow Jones Newswires
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


WASHINGTON -- California's medicinal-marijuana law came under sharp attack 
at the U.S. Supreme Court as several justices questioned whether the state 
can carve out a medical exemption for marijuana use that doesn't violate 
federal drug laws.

The justices heard oral arguments yesterday in a lawsuit filed by two 
California residents who qualified to use marijuana to relieve pain from 
health problems. The residents sued to bar federal prosecution by the 
Justice Department, which believes the state law is invalid.

California, one of nine states that allow use of marijuana for medical 
reasons, regulates medicinal marijuana under an exemption put in place by a 
state voter referendum. The Food and Drug Administration, which regulates 
drugs nationwide, hasn't approved marijuana use for medical purposes.

"Medicine by regulation is better than medicine by referendum," said 
Justice Stephen Breyer, who told advocates for the California law they 
should try to win FDA approval of medicinal-marijuana use. Efforts to 
enforce marijuana laws barring recreational use "face a mess" if an 
exemption is allowed for medicinal purposes, he said.

Despite an underlying concern about states' rights important to a number of 
justices, the high court appeared concerned that the California law would 
harm drug enforcement, and they expressed skepticism that the 
Constitution's commerce provisions let states approve marijuana cultivation 
for personal consumption, as a lower court decided in the case.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, for example, asked whether upholding the 
California law could make marijuana cheaper and easier to access. Justice 
Antonin Scalia, a states' rights advocate, compared the federal ban on 
medicinal marijuana to federal laws making it illegal to possess eagle 
feathers or ivory from animal tusks to protect endangered species.

Randy Barnett, a Boston attorney and senior fellow at the Cato Institute 
who represented the plaintiffs, argued that the law was written to give 
limited number of qualified people access to marijuana. "This is a class of 
activity that is isolated by the state of California and policed by the 
state," he said.

Acting Solicitor General Paul Clement, arguing for the U.S. government, 
questioned whether marijuana has a legitimate medical purpose. "Smoked 
marijuana itself really doesn't have a future as medicine," he said.

The Supreme Court will rule on the case by July 2005. (Ashcroft v. Raich)
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