Supreme Court to Weigh Medical Necessity of Marijuana
The Supreme Court on Wednesday will hear arguments on the "seemingly irreconcilable conflict" between a state's legalization of marijuana for medicinal use and federal antidrug laws that "explicitly forbid" marijuana possession, the San Jose Mercury News reports. The case centers on the Oakland Cannabis Buyers Cooperative, a marijuana distribution club that has been dispensing the drug to seriously ill patients for pain relief since 1996, when California voters approved Proposition 215 (Mintz, San Jose Mercury News, 3/25). By passing the proposition, California became the first state to legalize the "possession and use of marijuana for medical purposes on a doctor's recommendation." However, several drug distribution groups, including the Oakland club, were sued in 1998 by the federal government, which charged that "allowing clubs to hand out marijuana compromises the government's ability to enforce federal drug laws." A federal judge initially sided with the government, but the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that decision and ruled that "medical necessity" could be invoked by the clubs ( AP/Baltimore Sun, 3/26). However, in August, the Supreme Court issued an injunction to halt marijuana distribution while the government pursued its appeal of the 9th Circuit's ruling (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 8/30/2000). The Supreme Court is not ruling on the California statute "directly," but rather is focusing on medical necessity as a "defense against federal drug bans." The AP/Sun reports that it is "unclear whether the justices will decide on [the] general issue [of medical necessity] or rule more narrowly on how lower courts have handled this case." If the court affirms medical necessity as a defense, it would "make it easier" for marijuana clubs in California and eight other states with similar laws -- Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Maine, Nevada and Colorado -- to dispense the drug (AP/Baltimore Sun, 3/26).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.