Pubdate: Mon, 29 Nov 2004
Source: Sun News (Myrtle Beach, SC)
Copyright: 2004 Sun Publishing Co.
Author: Gail Gibson, The Baltimore Sun
Cited: Raich v. Ashcroft
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Angel Raich)


Alabama Sides With California

Tough-on-crime Alabama could never be accused of going easy on
marijuana users. State law allows people convicted three times on
simple possession charges to face a sentence of 15 years to life. Any
defense claims of medicinal use are flatly rejected.

But with the U.S. Supreme Court set to hear arguments today in a
California case that medical-marijuana advocates view as a critical
test for their cause, they have found an unlikely ally in Alabama and
its argument that the federal government should not meddle in state

"We take this stuff seriously, and we happen to believe as a matter of
[drug] policy that the Californians are wrong, and the feds are
right," Kevin C. Newsom, Alabama's solicitor general, said in a recent
interview. "But we're here to articulate the state's long-term
interest - and the state's long-term interest is in Congress' powers
being maintained within appropriate boundaries."

And so Alabama forged an unlikely legal alliance. The state filed a
friend of the court brief on behalf of two California women, Angel
McClary Raich and Diane Monson, who won a court injunction last year
blocking the federal government from prosecuting people who use, grow
or possess marijuana for medical reasons in accordance with
California's 1996 ballot initiative, the Compassionate Use Act.

In its decision from December, the San Francisco-based 9th U.S.
Circuit Court of Appeals - which gave conservative-leaning states such
as Alabama fits with an earlier decision that the phrase "under God"
should be removed from the Pledge of Allegiance - said federal
interstate-commerce laws should not apply if the drug was not sold,
transported across state lines or used for nonmedicinal reasons.

The federal government appealed. In papers filed with the Supreme
Court, Acting Solicitor General Paul D. Clement said carving out a
loophole for medical marijuana in drug-policy enforcement "undermines
Congress' intent to regulate the drug market to protect public health
and safety."

"Marijuana that is grown, distributed and then possessed for personal
'medical' consumption can also, at any step, be sold or distributed
for others," he said.

How the Supreme Court rules in Ashcroft v. Raich could have broad
implications for the future of the medical use of marijuana. Ten years
ago, California was the first state to allow sick patients to medicate
themselves with marijuana. Eleven other states now have similar laws.

Voters in Ann Arbor, Mich., and Columbia, Mo., also adopted
medical-marijuana provisions this month. In Ann Arbor, the measure was
called into question almost immediately after the city attorney said
state and federal laws banning all marijuana use would continue to

A similar clash between local and federal control is at the core of
the case before the Supreme Court. That is where Alabama enters the

"Whether California and the other compassionate-use states are
'courageous' - or instead profoundly misguided - is not the point,"
Alabama Attorney General Troy King wrote in his friend of the court
brief, which was joined by attorneys general from Louisiana and

"While [the three] states may not see eye to eye with some of their
neighbors concerning the wisdom of decriminalizing marijuana
possession and use in certain instances, they support their neighbors'
prerogative in our federalist system to serve as 'laboratories for
experimentation,'" King said in his brief, quoting a leading Supreme
Court decision from 1995 on states' rights.

Randy Barnett, a Boston University law professor and former Cook
County, Ill., prosecutor, will argue Raich's case before the court
today. In an interview, he acknowledged the unlikely bedfellows of
conservative states and left-leaning pro-marijuana groups also backing
his side.

"This case stands for the proposition that federalism is not just for
conservatives," Barnett said.

The Supreme Court in recent years has challenged the federal
government's centralized authority by striking down congressional acts
it views as intruding on what should be the realm of the states. In
the 1995 case cited in Alabama's filing, the court rejected a federal
law that prohibited possessing a gun near a school because the crime
had no effect on interstate commerce. 
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