Washington, DC: Supreme Court justices heard arguments for the first time
today on whether organizations or individuals who violate federal
marijuana laws may raise the defense of "medical necessity" to avoid a
criminal conviction. Lawyers for the Justice Department appealed a Ninth
Circuit Court of Appeals decision rendered in July that stipulates there
exists a class of patients who benefit medically from marijuana, and that
they should not face federal criminal penalties for using it. The Ninth
Circuit decision added that this legal protection should also extend to
organizations that supply such patients with marijuana.

NORML Executive Director R. Keith Stroup said that a majority of justices
appeared skeptical that the medical necessity defense should protect
third party providers such as the Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative,
but seemed sympathetic to the use of medical marijuana by individual
patients.

Stroup further added that regardless of how the Supreme Court rules,
state laws allowing qualified patients to use marijuana medicinally
remain safely intact. "The case before the Court today is not a legal
challenge to California's Proposition 215, nor is it a threat to any of
the additional eight medical marijuana-use laws passed since 1996," he
said. "In fact, the justices noted and the attorney for the Justice
Department admitted that the question of federal supremacy as it pertains
to the legality of state medical marijuana laws is not at issue here."

Since 1996, nine states - Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii,
Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Washington - have adopted legislation exempting
patients who use marijuana under their doctor's supervision from criminal
penalties under state law. To date, federal officials have not
challenged the legality of any of those measures. Justice Department
officials did initially threaten to sanction physicians who recommended
marijuana to their patients in accordance with state law. However, a
federal court enjoined the government from doing so, finding that a
physician's right to discuss marijuana therapy with a patient is
constitutionally protected. Justice officials later filed a civil suit
in federal court against six California medical marijuana dispensaries,
including the Oakland club. The Oakland Cooperative, which continues to
operate as a patient resource center but no longer distributes medical
marijuana, was the sole defendant in today's case.

For more information, please contact Keith Stroup, NORML Executive
Director, at (202) 483-5500.


NORML
1001 Conn. Ave., NW
Ste. 710
Washington, DC 20036
www.norml.org
norml@norml.org
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