STATE BACKS MEDICAL POT CASE BEFORE U.S. SUPREME COURT
Attorney General Files Brief Supporting Two Californians
California Attorney General Bill Lockyer sided with two medical
marijuana patients Wednesday in their U.S. Supreme Court battle with
the Bush administration, arguing that patients who use locally grown
marijuana in states that allow it should be protected from federal
"The federal government has limited authority to interfere with state
legislation enacted for the protection of citizen health, safety and
welfare, " Lockyer's office said in papers filed with the court on
behalf of California, Maryland and Washington, three of the 11 states
with medical marijuana laws.
His brief noted that the 1970 Controlled Substances Act, which
classified marijuana as a dangerous drug with "no currently accepted
medical use," was passed long before the AIDS epidemic and before
large numbers of doctors began recommending pot to counter the effects
of therapy for AIDS and cancer.
In light of those developments, the federal ban on marijuana
possession should not be interpreted to apply to the state-regulated
medicinal use of a drug that is obtained within a state, said Taylor
Carey, a special assistant attorney general who wrote Lockyer's brief.
Otherwise, Carey argued, enforcement of the law would exceed Congress'
constitutional power to regulate interstate commerce.
The court is scheduled to hear arguments Nov. 29 on whether federal
authorities can prosecute patients and their caregivers and confiscate
their marijuana. The plaintiffs are Angel Raich of Oakland, who
suffers from a brain tumor and a wasting disorder, and Diane Monson of
Oroville (Butte County), who has severe back pain and muscle spasms.
Both women have doctors' recommendations to use marijuana for their
conditions, as required by Proposition 215, a ballot initiative passed
by California voters in 1996. Raich's marijuana is provided by her
caregivers, and Monson was growing her own until federal agents seized
her six plants.
A federal appeals court ruled in December that their use of marijuana
was not part of interstate commerce and was therefore exempt fr
federal law, a decision that a federal judge later applied to a Santa
Cruz cooperative that supplied marijuana to its members. But in June,
the U.S. Supreme Court, to the dismay of medical marijuana advocates,
granted a request by the Bush administration to review the case. A
ruling is due by the end of June.
No Medicinal Value
In the government's most recent court filing, Justice Department
lawyers said courts should defer to congressional findings that all
marijuana use affects interstate commerce and that the drug has no
"Local manufacture, distribution, and use of controlled substances -
and their possession for those purposes - directly increase the
supply of those substances, which in turn increases demand,"
government lawyers wrote. "Neither the purported medical use of
marijuana nor the role of a physician in approving it provides the
slightest basis for excluding it from the comprehensive coverage" of
the federal law.
In filings Wednesday, Raich and Monson drew support from an unlikely
source -- the states of Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi, which take
a hard line on drugs and punish first-time marijuana users with prison
sentences as long as 10 years.
"This is not a case about drug-control policy or (patients')
fundamental rights," said lawyers from the Alabama attorney general's
office. "The point is that, as a sovereign member of the federal
union, California is entitled to make for itself the tough policy
choices that affect its citizens."