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Clearing The Haze: Appeals Court Rules For Medical Marijuana Law

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Conservatives traditionally have argued for strict limits on federal
authority. The Bush administration has turned that tradition on its
head with its recent efforts to use federal law to overturn the laws
of Oregon and the eight other states that allow their ailing citizens
to use marijuana for medical purposes.

On Tuesday, a panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dealt a
welcome blow to the habitually overreaching Bush administration by
ruling that federal drug laws do not trump state medical marijuana

The decision marks the second recent court defeat for the federal
government in its battle against the medical-marijuana movement.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a 9th Circuit ruling
that barred federal prosecutors from threatening to revoke the
prescription rights of doctors who approved marijuana use for their

Is anyone in the White House or Justice Department reading these
rulings? Doing so would persuade them to give up this fight.

The latest case involves a seizure last year by federal drug agents of
marijuana used by a number of people throughout California, including
Diane Monson of Oroville, who uses marijuana to treat chronic and
severe back pain. Monson and Angel M. Raich, an Oakland, Calif., woman
who uses marijuana for an inoperable brain tumor, sued U.S. Attorney
General John Ashcroft in federal court. Both women, who are using
marijuana at the recommendation of their doctors, asked the court to
bar the federal government from confiscating their marijuana or taking
punitive action against them.

The court panel's majority sided with the two women, stating that
"intrastate, noncommercial cultivation, possession and use of
marijuana for personal medical purposes on the advice of a physician
is, in fact, different from drug trafficking.'' The federal
government, the justices added, has the power to pass laws against
trafficking in drugs, but ``the cultivation, possession and use of
marijuana for medicinal purposes and not for exchange or distribution
is not properly characterized as commercial or economic activity.''

The two-member majority of the panel based its ruling on two U.S.
Supreme Court decisions about the principles of federalism. In both
cases, one involving a federal law banning guns in schools and another
allowing federal prosecutions of violent crimes against women, the
high court struck down federal laws on the grounds that they
overstepped the federal government's constitutional authority to
regulate interstate commerce.

Despite these canons of conservatism, it seems unlikely that either
the Bush or Ashcroft will now abandon their misguided quest to
overturn state medical marijuana laws.

Congress, however, could easily end this needless conflict. Under
federal law, marijuana is classified as a Schedule 1 controlled
substance - a drug that has no accepted medical use. Other Schedule 1
drugs include crack cocaine or heroin. Congress should reclassify
marijuana as a Schedule 2 drug. like morphine - one that is still
illegal, but that has recognized medical uses.

Such a sensible move by Congress would leave states free to decide for
themselves whether to allow marijuana to be used for medical purposes
without interference by an overreaching and meddlesome federal

Pubdate: Fri, 19 Dec 2003
Source: Register-Guard, The (OR)
Copyright: 2003 The Register-Guard
Contact: rgletters@guardnet.com
Website: Breaking local news, news updates, sports, business and weather | Eugene, Oregon