Editorial: Medical marijuana



Pubdate: Tue, 18 July 2000
Source: Orange County Register (CA)
Copyright: 2000 The Orange County Register
Contact: letters@link.freedom.com
Address: P.O. Box 11626, Santa Ana, CA 92711
Fax: (714) 565-3657

Editorial: Medical marijuana

The news that U.S. District Judge Charles R. Breyer has modified a previous
injunction against northern California cannabis clubs tops a weekend of good
news on the medical marijuana front. The federal government's previously
unyielding wall of marijuana prohibition is beginning to crumble. It's about
time. Judge Breyer's ruling almost certainly clears the way for the Oakland
Cannabis Buyers Cooperative to begin dispensing marijuana to certain

In addition to Judge Breyer's decision, UC San Francisco medical school
researcher Donald Abrams reported promising results at last week's
international AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa, on his pioneering
studies on the use of marijuana by AIDS patients. Many people had expressed
concern that marijuana would damage the immune systems of AIDS patients. Dr.
Abrams' research showed no damage to the immune systems of patients in his
study, but noted improved appetites and ability to hold down food and
medicine, which is the reason many AIDS patients believe marijuana helps

In San Francisco, meanwhile, District Attorney Terence Hallinan kicked off a
new program of issuing city identification cards for medical marijuana users
that are intended to protect patients from arrest or prosecution for
possession, cultivation or use of marijuana by local law enforcement
agencies. As Jeff Jones, executive director of the Oakland cooperative, told
us, "You can go to the same window where you apply for a copy of your birth
certificate and get a cannabis card. From what patients tell us, the
program, begun last week, is working smoothly."

The San Francisco ID card program doesn't change federal law, but Judge
Breyer's decision affects the way federal law is applied in limited but
significant ways. Judge Breyer issued an injunction against the Oakland
Cannabis Buyers Cooperative and five other northern California medical
cannabis distribution centers in May 1998, forbidding them to distribute
cannabis to patients who qualify under Section 11362.5 of the California
Health and Safety Code, established by voters when they passed Proposition
215 in 1996.

The Oakland cooperative appealed Judge Breyer's injunction and last
September the federal 9th Circuit Court of Appeal ordered him to reconsider
the case after allowing the club to offer a "medical necessity" defense that
would create exceptions to federal laws against marijuana use. On appeal
from the government, the 9th Circuit declined to reconsider the case. On
Monday Judge Breyer modified his injunction "as a result of the government's
failure to offer any new evidence and in light of the 9th Circuit court's

Specifically, Judge Breyer ruled that under federal laws the Oakland
cooperative can distribute marijuana to patients who meet certain criteria.
They must:

*Suffer from a serious medical condition.

*Face "imminent harm" if they do not have access to marijuana.

*Need marijuana for treatment of a medical condition or to alleviate
symptoms associated with the condition, and

*Have no reasonable alternative to cannabis because they have tried
other available legal treatments and those treatments have either not
worked or have produced intolerable side effects.

Those conditions are stricter than those imposed by 215, under which
patients may possess, use and cultivate (and, in light of appellate court
decisions, transport) marijuana under California law as modified by
Proposition 215. However, as Robert Raich, attorney for the Oakland
cooperative, reminded us, Judge Breyer's decision specifically authorizes
distribution, whereas Proposition 215 did not (although distribution could
be inferred).

The ruling also doesn't require a physician's certification because, as Mr.
Raich put it, "Under the law if it's a necessity that settles it; no
authority figure is needed." It is also worth noting that the federal
government has not challenged California's medical marijuana law in court,
so under the California constitution California officials are obliged to
enforce it as written. and unless a federal court so rules, they cannot
claim that it is unenforceable due to conflict with federal law.

The next step, as Jeff Jones reminded us, is for the federal government to
recognize medical reality and remove marijuana from Schedule I under the
Controlled Substances Act. Schedule I is reserved for drugs that have no
recognized medical use and cannot be used safely under a doctor's
supervision. Federal courts (and recent research) have now recognized that
there are accepted and safe medical uses for marijuana.

The Drug Enforcement Administration should act immediately on a petition
currently pending to reschedule marijuana and cease its cruel and
unjustified war on sick people.
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