Pubdate: Thu, 29 Oct 1998
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Page: A26
Copyright: 1998 The Washington Post Company
Author: John W. Karr


In her Oct. 17 Metro story on the District ballot initiative to
legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes, Julie Makinen
Bowles reported that District "court officials said they could not
recall any case in which a defendant claimed a medical defense" to the
crime of marijuana possession. In fact, as I can attest as the defense
lawyer in the matter, the first case in which any U.S. court
recognized medical necessity as a legitimate defense to a marijuana
possession charge was decided on Nov. 24, 1976, by the late Judge
James A. Washington Jr. of the Superior Court of the District of
Columbia. (The case was United States v. Robert Randall, and Judge
Washington's written decision appeared in Vol. 104, p. 2,249 of the
Daily Washington Law Reporter on Dec. 28, 1976.)

In that case, Judge Washington found Mr. Randall not guilty of any
crime because the evidence established that marijuana alleviated a
medical condition for which there was no other effective palliative.
In his decision, Judge Washington wrote that in those circumstances,
"It is unlikely that . . . slight, speculative and undemonstrable
harm" from medicinal marijuana use "could be considered more important
than defendant's right" to preserve his health and that "permitting
this limited use of marijuana" for medical purposes "will not endanger
the general public in the way that heroin might."

This District case became the catalyst for a national movement to
legalize marijuana for medical use. It would be a fitting memorial to
Judge Washington if on Election Day District voters finally ratified
his courageous and compassionate decision made some two decades ago.


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Checked-by: Patrick Henry