OROVILLE An Oroville woman Wednesday hailed a "landmark" court ruling that
said the federal government did not have the right to uproot her six-plant
medical marijuana garden last summer.

"I was growing within the law and I'm very thankful to (the court) for
giving me back my rights and my medicine," said Diane Monson.

The 46-year-old Oroville woman had joined an Oakland pot patient, Angel
Raich, in suing Attorney General John Ashcroft over the seizure by federal
agents of small amounts of marijuana prescribed by their doctors.

They asked for a court order permitting them to smoke, grow or obtain pot
without fear of federal prosecution in states such as California that have
passed medical marijuana laws.

In a 2-1 decision for the two women Tuesday, the 9th Circuit Court of
Appeal held that personal use of medical marijuana in a state that permits
it can be outside the control of federal authorities.

Specifically, the court majority found that prosecuting medical marijuana
users under a 1970 federal drug trafficking law is unconstitutional if the
pot isn't sold, transported across state lines or used for non-medical
purposes.

The decision sends the women's suit back to a lower court that had earlier
refused to block federal action against Raich and Monson.

Randy Barnett, a Boston law professor who represented the two California
women, called it a landmark decision that could theoretically affect
medical marijuana users in the other Western states within the court's
jurisdiction.

"This is a tremendous landmark case that says it's unconstitutional to use
federal drug laws to prohibit wholly non-commercial cultivation and use of
medical cannabis. Such activities are solely a matter of state laws," said
the plaintiffs' lawyer.

The U.S. Justice Department and the federal Drug Enforcement Administration
in Washington, D.C., said Wednesday they were still reviewing the court
decision and had no comment at this time.

A Justice Department spokesman indicated their options are to do nothing or
appeal the case either to the full 9th Circuit Court or directly to the
U.S. Supreme Court.

At the time of the local pot bust, Butte County District Attorney Mike
Ramsey had taken the unusual action of moving to block federal drug
officers from uprooting Monson's medical marijuana garden because it fell
within the county's six-plant limit.

Though Ramsey later relented, he ended up writing a friend of the court
brief on Monson's behalf.

"For people living up to the spirit and the law of Prop. 215, it should
give them some additional comfort that the federal government will not
intervene in their small personal grows," Ramsey said of this week's ruling.

Monson, who smokes marijuana with a doctor's recommendation for painful
back spasms, was home with her husband during an early summer morning in
2002 when Butte County sheriff's deputies, accompanied by a handful of
federal agents, raided their rural Wyandotte ranch.

Sheriff's deputies had previously flown over the heavily-wooded property by
helicopter, but couldn't tell how large the grow was, according to Ramsey.

After confirming the county's six-plant guidelines had not been exceeded,
sheriff's officers started to leave, but the federal agents reportedly said
they were compelled under federal drug law to seize the pot.

When contacted by his investigator, Ramsey said he ordered the deputies to
"take whatever means necessary" to stop the agents from uprooting the
plants until he conferred with their superiors.

After discussing the matter with the acting U.S. attorney in Sacramento,
Ramsey said he advised the local officers to leave the site, but in no way
assist the federal agents.

Ramsey said he warned the U.S. attorney his agents would be viewed by the
public as "jack-booted thugs ... if they took this woman's measly six plants."

The district attorney said he also predicted that the agents' action would
result in the very court ruling that came down this week.

"Bad facts make for bad case law," observed Ramsey.

While he supported Monson's case and even wrote a brief saying that she was
complying with local and state laws, Ramsey said he is concerned that
larger growers will try to use the court ruling in seeking the same
protection against federal prosecution.

"That will increase the challenge for local law enforcement officers," the
DA predicted.

As the federal authorities were chopping down her small grow, Diane Monson
said she recited the entire text of Prop. 215, the 1996 voter-approved
Compassionate Use law, which legalized medical use of pot in California.

The Oroville woman said Tuesday's court decision showed she was right.

"I want to say to them, you violated my constitutional rights," Monson stated.

She said she was particularly gratified that the 9th Circuit, which is
known for some of its more liberal rulings, particularly in medical
marijuana cases, relied on "solid case law that had come down from the U.S.
Supreme Court."

For Michael Pierce, Monson's husband, Tuesday's ruling means the government
can no longer accuse his wife of being a criminal.

"This is a very good woman who devotes her time to helping illiterate
persons to read and helping the homeless," said Monson's spouse.

"We paid our taxes, lived within the law, raised two beautiful children and
they were trying to make her a significant criminal over this one issue
between her and her doctor," added Pierce.

The Oroville woman said the legal struggle was not without pain. She had
been without her "medicine" for 15 months while the court case was being
contested.

"I'm very sorry it came to having to go on the offensive with the federal
government," she said. "But they sought to expand their powers far beyond
what the founders of this country ever intended."


Pubdate: Thu, 18 Dec 2003
Source: Chico Enterprise-Record (CA)
Webpage: http://www.chicoer.com/Stories/0,141...838248,00.html
Copyright: 2003 The Media News Group
Contact: letters@chicoer.com
Website: http://www.chicoer.com/