Supreme Court’s Ruling Unlikely to Deter Medical Marijuana Advocates in California, Other States
As the Supreme Court ruled yesterday that medical marijuana distribution is illegal, law officials and providers of the drug in California, where the case originated, "spent the day in conference with attorneys," determining how the federal decision would affect the dozens of buying clubs and nearly 30,000 people who use the drug on doctors' orders, the Los Angeles Times reports. California Attorney General Bill Lockyer (D) said that further review is necessary before "any conclusions are reached or recommendations are made about California law." Lockyer added that the decision "disappointed" him because the court "was unable to respect California's historic role as a 'laboratory' for good public policy and a leader in the effort to help sick and dying residents who have no hope for relief other than through medical marijuana." The court's ruling does not address whether California's Proposition 215 -- the first of nine state laws that allows patients to grow and use small amounts of marijuana for medical reasons -- is constitutional, the Times reports. Nathan Barankin, spokesperson for Lockyer, said that the ruling does not appear to throw out Proposition 215, but he added that the attorney general's office would meet with local law enforcement officials to "map out a state response" to the ruling (La Ganga, Los Angeles Times, 5/15). Bill Zimmerman, director of the Santa Monica-based Americans for Medical Rights, added, "This decision does not render medical marijuana laws moot." He said that states could circumvent the decision by setting up distribution systems for the drug (Nieves, New York Times, 5/15). But Marsha Cohen, a University of California-Hastings College of the Law professor, said that the decision "puts a cloud over the proposition." She added, "What the [marijuana buying] clubs have been doing is not even legal under state law, and yet state enforcement officials have looked the other way. The feds have stopped looking the other way. Now that they have this decision ... it will embolden them to try to shut down the clubs."
California Advocates 'Defiant'
Many medical marijuana advocates around California, however, said that despite the ruling, medical marijuana users would be able to get the drug "no matter what." Scott Imler, president of the West Hollywood-based Los Angeles Cannabis Resource Center, said, "The co-op will continue in its mission. We will continue to cooperatively cultivate marijuana for our own medicinal needs." Sean Karrigan, who works at the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana, said, "We expect the feds to say, 'Close or else we'll arrest you.' But we'll wait until then." But Ukiah Cannabis Club Director Marvin Lehrman said he "does not expect federal authorities to knock at his door any time soon" (Los Angeles Times, 5/15).
Medical marijuana advocates in other states have reacted to the Supreme Court ruling as well. The following summarizes state-level reactions:
- Arizona: According to Dr. Jerome Kasierer, professor at Tufts School of Medicine and former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, Arizona's medical marijuana law, which permits doctors to prescribe marijuana and patients to possess the drug, still allows people to use marijuana for medical reasons despite the Supreme Court ruling. However, Arizona doctors have not been prescribing marijuana because of a warning by former Attorney General Janet Reno, who said that the Drug Enforcement Administration would review records of state doctors who prescribed illegal drugs to determine if their prescription-writing privileges should be revoked (Stauffer, Arizona Daily Star, 5/15).
- Arkansas: Despite the ruling, a group of Arkansas residents continues to work "steadily" to put a medical marijuana initiative on the state ballot in November 2002. The initiative would allow patients with chronic illnesses to grow up to 10 marijuana plants in their homes, but does not provide patients with a way to obtain the drug. The group needs 56,000 signatures by July 2002 to get the initiative on the ballot (Yee, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 5/15).
- Colorado: Supporters of the state's medical marijuana law, which allows people with serious illnesses and a doctor's recommendation to possess and use marijuana, said that the ruling will not keep the law from taking effect June 1 because the law does not authorize marijuana distribution (Morgan, Denver Post, 5/15). But state Attorney General Ken Salazar said that people who grow, distribute or use marijuana "are in real peril of federal drug enforcement" regardless of the state's law (Sprengelmeyer, Denver Rocky Mountain News, 5/15).
- Maine: A spokesperson for the state attorney general's office said the attorney general would look into whether the ruling affects the state's law, which allows ill residents to legally use the drug. State Sen. Anne Rand (D), who is sponsoring a bill that would create a not-for-profit marijuana distribution center, said, "People who are supportive of medical marijuana laws will not be swayed by this" (Merrill, Boston Globe, 5/15).
- Minnesota: A spokesperson for Gov. Jesse Ventura (I) said that in light of the decision, the governor, who has "long supported medical marijuana use," would likely become a national advocate for medicalizing the drug. However, the spokesperson added that the ruling might "damper" state initiatives that would encourage scientists to conduct further research the drug. But Aggie Leitheiser, assistant state health commissioner, said that the ruling "wouldn't substantially affect Minnesota health care providers who are interested in pursuing medical marijuana" (Burcum, Minneapolis Star Tribune, 5/15).
- Ohio: The ruling might give state legislators more reason to decline to support a bill that would allow people with AIDS, cancer, glaucoma and multiple sclerosis to legally possess marijuana, John Precup, president of the Ohio Patient Network, said. Precup added, however, that the ruling does not change the group's efforts to push the bill into law (Crane/Torry, Columbus Dispatch, 5/15).
- Washington: A spokesperson for the state attorney general's office said the state is still studying the decision to determine how it affects Washington's law, which allows patients to have a 60-day supply of marijuana. Doug Hoenig, spokesperson for the American Civil Liberties Union, said that the ruling should not affect the state's law because it "only covers federal marijuana cases," and most marijuana cases are handled in state courts. Dr. Rob Killian, who sponsored the state's 1998 marijuana initiative, said that the state's law does not cover distribution, the issue the Supreme Court case addressed (Camden, Spokane Spokesman-Review, 5/15).