Pubdate: Tue, 30 Nov 2004
Source: Charlotte Observer (NC)
Copyright: 2004 The Charlotte Observer
Author: Stephen Henderson, Knight Ridder
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


Justices Unsure About Allowing Even Limited Access To Illegal Drugs

WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court on Monday appeared unlikely to shield
medical marijuana users from federal drug laws, as justices expressed
deep reservations about sanctioning even limited use of illegal drugs.

Some justices were skeptical that medicinal pot, which is permitted in
11 states, is always a noneconomic enterprise and separate from the
illegal drug trade.

Others seemed to dispute the idea that Congress couldn't regulate a
substance that's considered contraband.

Five justices seemed inclined to rule against the two California
patients who sued to prevent the federal government from confiscating
their drugs, with two others appearing more open to either side.

Justice Clarence Thomas remained characteristically

Chief Justice William Rehnquist, sick with thyroid cancer, was absent
from the bench Monday and isn't expected back for the court's five
remaining argument sessions this year. Rehnquist, who's receiving
chemotherapy and radiation treatments, is working at home, court
officials said.

He's expected to vote in the medical marijuana case and could write
the court's opinion.

At issue in the case is whether Congress or the states have the final
say over drug policy. The 1970 Controlled Substances Act banned all
uses of marijuana, but in the past decade 11 states have adopted laws
that permit the use of marijuana with a doctor's recommendation.

The case puts the court's conservatives in an odd position. They're
the strongest advocates for a line of cases that's restrained federal
authority in favor of state autonomy, yet their social conservatism
could make it tough for them to side with pot smokers.

California's 1996 "compassionate use" law is what inspired California
plaintiffs Diane Monson and Angel Raich, who are afflicted by chronic
illnesses and allergic reactions to traditional drugs, to begin using
marijuana. They smoke it, inhale it as a vapor or rub it on themselves
as a balm.

After Drug Enforcement Administration officers raided Monson's house
and confiscated her homegrown marijuana in 2002, the two women sued.

Randy Barnett, the women's lawyer, told the high court that medical
marijuana falls outside the commercial drug activity that Congress has
a constitutional interest in regulating or prohibiting.

He added that the government's war on drugs isn't undercut by state
efforts to help sick people feel better.

"This is different," he said. "It's a narrow class of people growing
it for themselves or having a provider grow it for them."

Justice Anthony Kennedy, however, wondered how the court could assume
that all patients were growing marijuana themselves instead of buying
from drug dealers.

Court Action

The Supreme Court on Monday:

. Passed up a chance to revisit the constitutionality of campaign
spending limits in a closely watched case from New Mexico.

. Refused to consider whether federal rules for broadcast licenses
discriminate against religious radio networks.

. Let stand a lower court ruling allowing the U.S. Army to keep four
watercolors painted by Adolf Hitler that were seized in Germany after
World War II.

. Declined to resurrect a lower court ruling barring a discrimination
lawsuit from Michigan army engineer David Tenenbaum, who claimed the
U.S. government wrongly investigated him for spying for Israel. He was
cleared of charges in 1998.
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