Supreme Court Hears Arguments in Medical Marijuana Case

The Supreme Court considered on Monday whether sick people should not be prosecuted under federal law for growing and using marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation.

The justices expressed reservations to endorse the medical use of marijuana as they examined a suit brought by Angel Raich, who claims she must use marijuana to ease the pain of a brain tumor and other diseases and Diane Monson, who uses the drug for her back pain, in 2002. Both live in California, one of 11 states where the medical use of marijuana has been legalized.

Randy Barnett, a law professor at Boston University who argued on behalf of the two women, told the justices that the marijuana used by the patients would be grown in California, not sold, and not leave state lines, it is a noneconomic activity that falls outside of interstate commerce and the power of Congress to regulate. Based on Barnett’s argument, Congress’ Controlled Substances Act of 1970, which bans harmful drugs including marijuana, would not apply to the plaintiffs’ case.

"There is literally no connection between this and the interstate market," Barnett said.

The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. The Bush Administration appealed the decision to the Supreme Court.

Representing the Bush Administration, attorney Paul Clement argued Monday that growing marijuana at home still affects commerce and falls under the regulation of Congress.

"What you're talking about here is possession, manufacture, distribution of a valuable commodity to which there's a ready market," he said.

Clement also argued Congress has found no medicinal purpose to marijuana and noted the dangerous health effects of smoking marijuana.
"Smoked marijuana really doesn't have any future in medicine," he said. "Smoking is harmful. That's true of tobacco, and it's also true of marijuana.”

The Bush Administration fears that the legalization of marijuana would make it harder for the government to regulate illicit drugs and monitor drug trafficking.

Drug Free America Foundation calls marijuana a “gateway drug” since its use generally leads to the use of other, more dangerous drugs, reported CitizenLink. According to the group, campaigns against addictive drugs would suffer if the appellate court ruling is upheld.

The Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling at the end of June.

The case is Ashcroft v. Raich, 03-1454.