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Court Backs Medical Marijuana Use

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The federal government's stance on medicinal marijuana is simple: Pot is
banned, and anyone caught growing, selling or smoking it is a criminal.

But a court ruling this week suggests the law is flawed. Use of marijuana
for relief of chronic pain and nausea, the judges said, is "clearly
distinct from the broader illicit drug market."

Washington, D.C., is fighting a losing battle on this one. At least 30
states have passed laws supporting the right of those suffering from
cancer, AIDS and other serious illnesses to use marijuana. Voters in nine
states, including Washington, Oregon and California, have explicitly
allowed the medical use of pot under a physician's guidance, despite the
drug's classification under U.S. Code as a Schedule 1 controlled substance:
illegal in all circumstances.

Eventually federal law will catch up with public sentiment. In the
meantime, the issue keeps spinning through the courts. And Tuesday's 2-1
ruling by a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel is just the latest turn.

The case involves two California women: one afflicted by an inoperable
brain tumor, the other by a degenerative spine disease, both suffering
severe chronic pain. Neither has been arrested for pot use, but they sued
U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft last year to win protection from legal

The circuit court agreed, saying the 1970 federal Controlled Substances Act
cannot be used against marijuana users if the substance isn't sold or
transported across state lines. Wrote Judge Harry Pregerson: "The
intrastate, noncommercial cultivation, possession and use of marijuana for
personal medical purposes on the advice of a physician is, in fact,
different in kind from drug trafficking."

No doubt the Justice Department will appeal the decision, but how the U.S.
Supreme Court might decide the question is uncertain. In 2001, the court
ruled unanimously that federal law banned cannabis clubs in California from
supplying marijuana for medical purposes. But last October the justices
overruled Ashcroft's effort to strip medical licenses from physicians who
recommend pot to their patients.

Congress could put a quick end to the conflict -- and potentially improve
the lives of countless seriously ill, disabled and dying patients -- by
simply carving out a medical exception to the Controlled Substances Act and
then leaving it up to the individual states to decide. Sick people should
be placed in loving hands, not in handcuffs.

Pubdate: Thu, 18 Dec 2003
Source: Columbian, The (WA)
Copyright: 2003 The Columbian Publishing Co.
Contact: letters@columbian.com
Website: | Columbian.com