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Supreme Court Bars Medical Marijuana

Dateline: 08/30/00

Responding to an emergency request from the Clinton Administration, the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday voted 7-1 to bar the distribution of marijuana for medicinal purposes in California.

The court's brief order postponed the effect of a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that “medical necessity” of marijuana is a “legally cognizable defense” to charges of distributing drugs in violation of a federal law. 

Yesterday's ruling virtually overrides California's controversial 1996-passed ballot initiative -- Proposition 215. The initiative allows medical patients, under doctors' recommendations, to grow and use marijuana for pain relief. Several California "cannabis clubs" also distributed the drug to patients under the initiative and had continued to do so after the 9th Court of Appeals' ruling. 

Federal law, which takes precedence over state law, declares marijuana to have no medical value and bans distribution of the drug for medical purposes.

Justice Department attorneys argued before the Supreme Court that the 9th Circuit Court's ruling created "incentives for drug manufacturers and distributors to invoke the asserted needs of others as a justification for their drug trafficking," and that allowing the medicinal distribution of marijuana would " promote disrespect and disregard for an act of Congress that is central to combating illicit drug trafficking and use by giving a judicial stamp of approval to the open and notorious distribution of (illegal) substances to potentially thousands of users without any of the strict controls required."

Lawyers for the Oakland Cannabis Buyers’ Cooperative argued that, "The government has provided no evidence that states … that have passed medical cannabis laws have any difficulty prosecuting violations of their drug statutes."

States with medicinal marijuana initiatives similar to California's include Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Washington state.

The only dissenting vote came from Justice John Paul Stevens who wrote that the government, "has failed to demonstrate that the denial of necessary medicine to seriously ill and dying patients will advance the public interest or that the failure to enjoin the distribution of such medicine will impair the orderly enforcement of federal criminal statutes."

Justice Stephen G. Breyer disqualified himself from the case because his brother, a federal judge in San Francisco, and previously rendered a decision barring the medical distribution of marijuana. The decision was later reversed in a federal appeals court.

The case was: U.S. v. Oakland Cannabis Buyers’ Cooperative, A-145

 Reference Links

Supreme Court Central
Read about the latest actions, history and procedures of the U.S. Supreme Court. From your About Guide.

Medical Marijuana Report - Clinical Pharmacology
Report from the NIH on Medical Uses of Marijuana. From About Guide to Pharmacology Mary Ann Elchisak.

Marijuana Madness
Civil Liberties Guide J.D. Tuccille examines California's medicinal marijuana law and past court rulings on it.

Marijuana Use Linked to Head And Neck Cancers
Marijuana Use Linked to Head And Neck Cancers - U.S. study. From Neurosciences Guide Richard Schuerger.

Medical Marijuana Report - Glaucoma
Report from the NIH on Medical Uses of Marijuana - Glaucoma. From About Guide to Pharmacology Mary Ann Elchisak.

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