420 Magazine Background

Backers Of Medical Marijuana Hail Ruling

Thread starter #1


SAN FRANCISCO -- Ever since voters in California approved a 1996 ballot
measure that legalized some medicinal uses of marijuana, the state has been
locked in a legal and cultural battle with the federal government.

Federal agents have raided farms where medicinal marijuana is grown, closed
cooperatives where it is distributed and threatened to punish doctors who
discussed it with their patients, all because federal law prohibits
distribution or use of marijuana regardless of state law.

Throughout it all, proponents of medicinal marijuana in California and more
than a half dozen other states with similar laws have had little to
celebrate. But on Tuesday, telephones were ringing and congratulatory
e-mail flying as doctors, patients and other advocates of medicinal
marijuana rejoiced at a major legal victory that effectively allows doctors
to recommend the drug to patients.

"I was speechless, I was thrilled when I heard the news," said Daniel J.
Kane, 43, of Oakland, who first used marijuana for medicinal purposes about
10 years ago when he was suffering from AIDS wasting syndrome. "Even now, I
get this sort of tingling in my body thinking about what we have achieved."

The highly emotional victory came when the United States Supreme Court on
Tuesday let stand a federal appeals court ruling last October that the
federal government may not revoke the licenses of doctors who recommend
marijuana to their patients. The Bush administration had sought to have the
ruling overturned.

The ruling, by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit,
came in a lawsuit filed in 1997 by a group of doctors and patients,
including Mr. Kane, after the Clinton administration threatened to revoke
doctors' licenses in such circumstances. Since Mr. Bush took office in
2001, his administration has pursued the same policy.

The California law, known as Proposition 215, says doctors cannot be
punished for recommending marijuana for medical purposes. Over the weekend,
Gov. Gray Davis signed legislation intended to help carry out the law.

"I think you will now see more movement in California and other states to
make medical marijuana more of a reality," said Daniel N. Abrahamson,
director of legal affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, an advocacy group,
which along with the American Civil Liberties Union represented the doctors
and patients in the lawsuit. "I have heard from dozens of patients today
who are breathing a huge collective sigh of relief."

Nowhere was the excitement greater than in the San Francisco Bay area,
where the Drug Policy Alliance estimates the vast majority of medicinal
marijuana patients in the state reside -- about 10,000 -- and where the
federal Drug Enforcement Administration and the Justice Department have
concentrated their efforts to stamp out the drug's cultivation and

Marijuana has been particularly popular as a pain reliever and appetite
stimulant for people with H.I.V., AIDS and various forms of cancer. It can
be administered in a number of ways, from smoking like a cigarette to
mixing with tea.

"It is a real relief," Dr. Milton Estes, the medical director of the
Forensic AIDS Project at San Francisco's Department of Public Health, said
of the Supreme Court's action. "I can only hope it will send a message to
the federal government and the attorney general that every day people with
common sense understand that this is not the place for the federal
government to be wielding its weight and force against people with chronic

Ed Rosenthal, the celebrity author of marijuana books and advice columns
who was convicted in January in federal court of marijuana cultivation and
conspiracy, said the federal government had been given "a clear signal to
stay out of the state's business." Mr. Rosenthal had been growing marijuana
in Oakland for medicinal purposes under the state law.

"For the first time, many doctors will start writing recommendations for
cannabis," Mr. Rosenthal said. "Up until this point, they have been afraid."

The reaction among some patients who have used marijuana was deeply
emotional. Michael Ferrucci, 51, who runs a music store in Livermore and
who has had lung and testicular cancer, credits the drug with saving his
life. Nonetheless, he said, it has carried a social and legal stigma that
has been difficult to bear at times.

"I consider this an important step in turning the attitudes of Americans
around," Mr. Ferrucci said. "It has been far more beneficial to me than
other medications they have recommended to me, including powerful narcotics
like morphine, Demoral and codeine."

Judith S. Cushner, 58, a preschool director in San Francisco who has had
breast and uterine cancer, welcomed the court victory as having "separated
the politics from the medicine." But Ms. Cushner said she was saddened by
the time it took to resolve the matter in the courts. She said many people
who might have benefited from the drug chose not to use it because they
feared for their doctors.

"There are people who would be alive today if they had felt comfortable
discussing it with their physicians," Ms. Cushner said. "It took seven
years to get this far. Cancer moves a lot faster than that."

California's attorney general, Bill Lockyer, said that he hoped the court
action Tuesday and the new state legislation would cause the federal
government to back off its "overbearing enforcement practices."

But Richard Meyer, a special agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration
in San Francisco, said the federal government's basic view of marijuana had
not changed.

"Marijuana is still an illegal drug," Mr. Meyer said. "We will continue
doing our job."

Pubdate: Wed, 15 Oct 2003
Source: New York Times (NY)
Webpage: Backers of Medical Marijuana Hail Ruling
Copyright: 2003 The New York Times Company
Contact: letters@nytimes.com
Website: Breaking News, World News & Multimedia