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Second Medicinal Marijuana Case Goes Before U.S. Supreme Court

Second Medicinal Marijuana Case Goes Before U.S. Supreme Court


Second Medicinal Marijuana Case Goes Before U.S. Supreme Court

Less than a month after voters in Montana approved a ballot initiative 62% to 38%, making the state the 11th to permit the use of medicinal marijuana, the U.S. Supreme Court heard its second case on the subject'this time focusing on whether seriously ill patients in states with medicinal marijuana laws can legally grow the drug for personal use. In May 2001 the high court ruled unanimously against groups and collectives that supply medicinal marijuana to people with cancer, HIV disease, and other serious ailments, saying that use or possession of the drug is a violation of federal controlled-substances laws. The current case before the court was initiated by two California women who charge that federal prosecution of medicinal marijuana users is unconstitutional if the drug is not sold, transported across state lines, or used for nonmedical purposes. The San Francisco'based ninth U.S. circuit court of appeals supported the women's claims. California voters approved a ballot initiative in 1996 allowing marijuana use by seriously ill patients under the direction of their physicians. During oral arguments before the Supreme Court, attorneys for the Bush administration'which vehemently opposes medicinal marijuana use'told the justices they would be encouraging people to use illegal drugs if they sided with the plaintiffs. 'Smoked marijuana really does not have any future in medicine,' acting solicitor general Paul Clement stated. Attorneys for the women, however, claim they need marijuana to survive. One of the women, Angel Raich of Oakland, says she suffers from the effects of scoliosis, endometriosis, chronic nausea, unexplained seizures, a brain tumor too deep to be removed, and wasting syndrome. She says she has tried more than 30 different prescription medications and is able to achieve some relief of her symptoms only through marijuana use. The other plaintiff uses marijuana to treat painful back spasms that she says do not respond to prescription medications. Comments by the justices during the hearing suggest they are still skeptical about medicinal marijuana use. Justices Stephen Breyer and David Souter said they were worried that approving medical use would ultimately result in more recreational use of the illegal drug. 'Everyone will say 'Mine is medical,' ' Breyer said. Justice Antonin Scalia said he believes medicinal marijuana laws can be abused because many people will claim 'alleged medical needs.' A decision by the court is expected by the summer. In addition to California and Montana, other states with medicinal marijuana laws are Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington.

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