- The Washington Times - Monday, November 29, 2004

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Supreme Court appeared hesitant yesterday to endorse medical marijuana for patients who have a doctor’s recommendation.

Justices are considering whether sick people in 11 states with medical marijuana laws can get around a federal ban on the drug.

Paul Clement, the Bush administration’s top court lawyer, noted that California allows people with chronic physical and mental health problems to smoke marijuana and said potentially many people are subjecting themselves to health dangers.

“Smoked marijuana really doesn’t have any future in medicine,” he said.

Justice Stephen Breyer said supporters of marijuana for the ill should take their fight to federal drug regulators — before coming to the Supreme Court, and several justices repeatedly referred to the nation’s drug addiction problems.

Dozens of people, some with blankets, camped outside the high court to hear justices debate the issue. Groups such as the Drug Free America Foundation fear a government loss will undermine campaigns against addictive drugs.

The high court heard arguments in the case of Angel Raich, who tried dozens of prescription medicines to ease the pain of a brain tumor and other illnesses before she turned to marijuana.

Supporters of Miss Raich and another ill woman who filed a lawsuit after her California home was raided by federal agents argue that people with AIDS, cancer and other diseases should be able to grow and use marijuana.

Their attorney, Randy Barnett of Boston, told justices that his clients are law-abiding citizens who need marijuana to survive.

Marijuana may have some side effects, he said, but seriously sick people are willing to take the chance.

Besides California, nine other states allow people to use marijuana if their doctors agree: Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington. Arizona has a law permitting marijuana prescriptions, but no active program.

The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled against the government in a divided opinion that found federal prosecution of medical marijuana users is unconstitutional if the marijuana is not sold, transported across state lines or used for non-medicinal purposes.

The Bush administration argues that Congress has found no accepted medical use of marijuana and needs to be able to eradicate drug trafficking and its social harm.

The Supreme Court ruled three years ago that the government could prosecute distributors of medical marijuana despite their claim that the activity was protected by “medical necessity.”

Medical marijuana was an issue in the November elections. Montana voters easily approved a law that shields patients, their doctors and caregivers from arrest and prosecution for medical marijuana. But Oregon rejected a measure that would have dramatically expanded its existing medical marijuana program.

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