Pubdate: Thu, 02 Dec 2004
Source: Las Vegas City Life (NV)
Copyright: 2004sLas Vegas City Life
Author: Mike Zigler
Cited: Raich v. Ashcroft ( )
Cited: Marijuana Policy Project ( )
Cited: The Committee to Regulate and Control Marijuana (CRCM)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


Nevada Medical Marijuana Users Have a Large Stake in the Case Before
the Supreme Court

John Ashcroft. It's a name that's haunted Americans and their civil
liberties for four years. And while the attorney general announced his
resignation last month, his name will not soon be forgotten -
especially among medical marijuana users if things go wrong this week.

On Nov. 29, the Supreme Court began hearing arguments in Ashcroft v.
Raich. It's a case that will determine whether a federal ban on
marijuana can be enforced in states allowing the drug's use for
medical purposes. It also considers whether the feds can arrest
citizens for abiding by state drug laws.

Eleven states currently have laws legalizing marijuana for medical
purposes. Silver State voters approved the plant's medicinal use in
2000. The following year, lawmakers - led by Assemblywoman Chris
Giunchigliani, D-Las Vegas - passed legislation on the matter,
creating a state registry for patients with doctor

"The court should recognize and respect the will of the voters in
states to choose by initiative petition what they wish to allow,"
Giunchigliani said. "It's a short-cited, antiquated belief from the
Bush administration's drug czar that has caused this interference and
waste of taxpayer money to fight the will of the people."

Giunchigliani has been an active lawmaker in Nevada's marijuana
reform. She spearheaded legislation that eased the state's tough
marijuana laws in 2001. It reduced possession of small amounts of
marijuana from a felony to a misdemeanor. In 2003, she looked to
adjust a law that forbid a person from driving if their blood carries
more than 2 nanograms per milliliter of the hallucinogenic substance
found in marijuana. She wanted the limit increased to 20 nanograms.

One person benefiting from Giunchigliani's efforts is Pierre Werner,
who was diagnosed with a bipolar disorder in 1998. Under a doctor's
recommendation, Werner smokes about an ounce a week. He also opened a
medical marijuana consulting company to give other users access to a
doctor and the plant.

"This case is going to make or break it," Werner said of Ashcroft v.

Werner is going through legal battles of his own. He was arrested in
January for possession with intent to sell marijuana, when police
confiscated 34 mature plants and 14 immature plants from his
residence. State law only permits a medicinal marijuana user to
possess four mature and three immature plants. The Nevada Department
of Agriculture revoked his license - but Werner continues to run his
business, assisting about 50 clients who suffer anything from
migraines to AIDS, he said.

Werner's lawyer, Ryan Mortier, said it will likely be five months
before the Supreme Court makes a ruling, but no matter the decision,
all marijuana patients have a stake in it.

"It affects Pierre and other medical marijuana patients tremendously,"
said Mortier, who represents medical marijuana patients at a reduced
cost. "Potentially, all medical marijuana patients in the United
States could lose their privilege."

While Nevada voters approved the plant's medical use in 2000, they
voted against its private recreational use in 2002 - probably due to
the high 3-ounce possession limit.

The Committee to Regulate and Control Marijuana attempted to place
another question on this year's ballot that would have allowed
marijuana possession up to 1 ounce. But the group forgot to submit
6,000 signatures and failed to meet the minimum requirement.

The same group filed a similar petition Nov. 9. This one, if valid,
will require the Legislature to consider legalizing possession of
marijuana up to 1 ounce. Committee leaders admit there's no support
among lawmakers, but they hope the issue sparks public debate on the
matter. Also, if lawmakers do not pass the petition, it will appear on
the 2006 ballot.

Bruce Mirken, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project
(a group affiliated with the CRCM), said the Supreme Court's ruling
won't affect Nevada's marijuana laws, as the validity of state laws is
not the issue.

"All that's being argued is whether the patient protected under the
medical marijuana laws can also be protected from federal
prosecution," Mirken said. "The protection that they have under state
laws is not in dispute."

The outcome will be instrumental in the War on Drugs. A ruling in
favor of the federal government could undermine state marijuana laws,
whereas a ruling against the government could jeopardize federal
oversight of illegal drugs.

The Bush administration maintains that marijuana has no medical value,
and that state drug laws violate federal drug rules. The case before
the Supreme Court addresses questions left unresolved from the first
time it considered the legality of medical marijuana in 2001. Justices
ruled against clubs that distributed medical marijuana based on a
patient's medical necessity.

The decision, however, did not address whether the government can
block states from adopting their own medical marijuana laws.

Angel Raich, one of the plaintiffs in the case, sued Ashcroft for fear
of losing her medical marijuana supplies, following the
much-publicized raids federal agents conducted on cannabis clubs in
the San Francisco area. The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court
of Appeals ruled in Raich's favor last December, saying states were
free to adopt medical marijuana laws as long as the plant was not
sold, transported across state lines or used for non-medicinal purposes.

"I believe the Supreme Court should consider that states have the
right to set and determine policy, including the use of various
medical procedures and medicines," Giunchigliani said, noting that
Nevada was one of the first states to allow acupuncture and to license
the use of Gerovital anti-aging drugs. Also, due to the inaction of
the federal government, states are choosing to allow the importation
of drugs from Canada, she said.

Werner said if the Supreme Court rules against Raich, he's leaving the

"I'll either move to Canada or Amsterdam," he said. "This is serious
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