- The Washington Times - Monday, June 6, 2005

State laws do not protect people whose doctors recommend marijuana to ease pain caused by cancer and other serious illnesses, and those who use it can be prosecuted by federal authorities, the Supreme Court ruled yesterday.

In a defeat for marijuana advocates who successfully lobbied 10 states to allow the drug’s medicinal use, the high court — in a 6-3 ruling — overturned a decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco that said medicinal marijuana users Angel Raich and Diane Monson, both of California, were immune to federal prosecution.

The use of marijuana at the recommendation of a doctor has been legal in California since voters approved Proposition 215 in 1996. Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington state have enacted similar laws.

“Our case law firmly establishes Congress’ power to regulate purely local activities that are part of an economic ‘class of activities’ that have a substantial effect on interstate commerce,” Justice John Paul Stevens said in the majority decision. “We have never required Congress to legislate with scientific exactitude.

“When Congress decides that the ‘total incidence’ of a practice poses a threat to a national market, it may regulate the entire class.”

Justice Stevens also said exempting for cultivation by patients and caregivers would only increase the supply of marijuana in California, adding that “no small number of unscrupulous people will make use of the California exemptions to serve their commercial ends whenever it is feasible to do so.”

Joining in the majority were Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer. Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Clarence Thomas dissented.

“If Congress can regulate this … then it can regulate virtually anything and the federal government is no longer one of limited and enumerated powers,” Justice Thomas said in a dissenting opinion.

Justice Department officials said they were pleased with the court ruling. John Walters, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said the nation’s “national medical system relies on proven scientific research, not popular opinion.”

The federally mandated Controlled Substances Act prevents the cultivation and possession of marijuana, even by those who claim “medicinal” use. Mrs. Raich, who has brain cancer, and Mrs. Monson, who grew marijuana in her yard to alleviate chronic back pain, sued the government in federal court in 2002 after raids a year earlier by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

The two women, who were among those arrested, claimed they were protected by passage of California’s Proposition 215.

The appeals court later agreed, ruling that the use of medical marijuana was noncommercial and, as a result, was not subject to congressional oversight. The government said homegrown marijuana represented interstate commerce because it affected the “overall production” of the drug.

“With this ruling, Congress and the Justice Department have a choice: They can choose to waste taxpayers’ dollars and undermine states’ rights by arresting and prosecuting seriously ill patients who possess and use medical cannabis in compliance with state law, or they can choose more worthwhile priorities, like protecting national security and targeting violent criminals,” said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the District-based National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).

Congress is expected to vote later this month on a bipartisan amendment offered by Reps. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican, and Maurice D. Hinchey, New York Democrat, that would prohibit the federal government from spending taxpayers’ dollars to prosecute patients who comply with their state’s medical marijuana laws.

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