Pubdate: Tue, 30 Nov 2004
Source: Wisconsin State Journal (WI)
Page: A3
Copyright: 2004 Madison Newspapers, Inc.
Author: Gina Holland Associated Press
Cited: Raich v. Ashcroft
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Angel Raich)


Justices Wonder If State Laws Could Be Abused By People Who Aren't Sick.

The Supreme Court questioned whether state medical marijuana laws
might be abused by people who aren't sick as it considered Monday
whether the federal government can prosecute patients who smoke pot on
doctors' orders.

The stakes are high on both the government level -- 11 states have
passed medical marijuana laws since 1996 -- and the personal.

In the courtroom watching the argument was Angel Raich, an Oakland,
Calif., mother of two who said she tried dozens of prescription
medicines to ease the pain of a brain tumor and other illnesses before
she turned to marijuana. She and another ill woman, Diane Monson,
filed a lawsuit to protect their access to the drug after federal
agents confiscated marijuana plants from Monson's yard.

Their attorney, Randy Barnett of Boston, told the justices that his
clients are law-abiding citizens who need marijuana to survive.
Marijuana may have some negative side effects, he said, but seriously
sick people are willing to take the chance because the drug helps them
more than traditional medicines.

The justices refused three years ago to protect distributors of
medical marijuana from federal anti-drug charges. They are confronting
a more personal issue this time -- the power of federal agents to go
after sick people who use homegrown cannabis with their doctors'
permission and their states' approval.

A defeat for the two California women might undermine existing state
laws and discourage other states from approving their own.

A loss for the government could jeopardize federal oversight of
illegal drugs and raise questions in other areas such as product
safety and environmental activities. A Bush administration lawyer told
the justices they would be encouraging people to use potentially
harmful marijuana if they were to side with the women.

Justice David H. Souter said an estimated 10 percent of people in
America use illegal drugs, and states with medical marijuana laws
might not be able to stop recreational users from taking advantage.

Justice Stephen Breyer said the government makes a strong argument
that as many as 100,000 sick people use marijuana in California, and
"when we see medical marijuana in California, we won't know what it
is. Everybody'll say, Mine is medical.' Certificates will circulate on
the black market. We face a mess."

Despite the tenor of the debate, the case is hard to predict. The
justices will rule before summer.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the federal government has a stake in
interstate commerce, but with the California medical marijuana
patients: "Nobody's buying anything. Nobody's selling anything."

Conservatives like Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Justice Clarence
Thomas and Justice Antonin Scalia generally have supported states'
rights to set their own policies.

Rehnquist, who is undergoing treatment for thyroid cancer, missed
Monday's argument and isn't expected back until January, at the earliest. 
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