Supreme Court to Hear Medical Marijuana Case
The Supreme Court yesterday agreed to hear arguments on the legality of marijuana distribution by a California group that distributes the drug for pain relief purposes, the AP/Washington Post reports. The Court will decide whether "medical necessity" constitutes a valid defense against current federal law that "makes marijuana distribution a crime." The Justice Department is asking the Court to bar the Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative from giving marijuana to seriously ill patients. The group states that its goal is "to provide seriously ill patients with safe access to necessary medicine so that these individuals do not have to resort to the streets." OCBC lawyers argue that "Congress has not explicitly barred a medical necessity defense against the federal anti-drug law." Lawyers for the Clinton administration, however, claim that marijuana distribution "threatens the government's ability" to enforce federal drug laws. They added that Congress has said that marijuana has "no currently accepted medical use." The dispute originated in 1996, when California voters passed Proposition 215, a ballot initiative allowing doctors to recommend marijuana for "medical purposes." In 1998, the federal government sued the Oakland group, arguing that the federal Controlled Substances Act "includes marijuana among the drugs whose manufacture and distribution are illegal." U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer initially found for the government, but this decision was reversed by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which held that "the government had not disproven the club's evidence that the drug was 'the only effective treatment for a large group of seriously ill individuals.'" Breyer then ruled earlier this year that the cooperative could distribute marijuana to patients in need. The government again appealed to the 9th Circuit, which has not yet ruled. But in August, the Supreme Court put Breyer's decision "on hold" and prohibited the group from dispensing marijuana pending the appeal. According to the Post, attorneys with the Justice Department indicated that the Supreme Court could now review the case because "the 9th Circuit court was not expected to change its decision." Charles Breyer is the brother of Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, who has distanced himself from the current case. Eight states in addition to California have current or recent voter-approved medical marijuana laws in place: Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Oregon, Nevada and Washington state (Asseo, AP/Washington Post, 11/27).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.