Wednesday, June 08, 2005

LET STATES DECIDE Medicinal marijuana ruling invites Congress to change law


Medicinal marijuana ruling invites Congress to change law

Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle

The U.S. Supreme Court Monday ruled 6-3 that sick people who use small amounts of physician-prescribed marijuana to alleviate pain and nausea are subject to federal prosecution. A day later, not much seemed to have changed.

Attorneys general in some of the 10 states that allow marijuana for limited medical purposes issued statements that the ruling would not result in a crackdown on users. U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has not indicated whether he will continue the hard-line policy on marijuana use of his predecessor, John Ashcroft.

At least one Justice Department official went out of his way to reassure patients that they had little to fear from federal agents.

"We have never targeted the sick and the dying, but rather criminals engaged in drug trafficking," Drug Enforcement Administration spokesman Bill Grant said. That doesn't explain why the DEA participated in a California drug raid four years ago against an accountant with degenerative spinal disease who had grown a few pot plants in her garden for personal use.

That California case led to this week's Supreme Court ruling that scrambled the court's ideological lineup. While liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg voted with the majority, finding that the federal government has the power to regulate the growth and use of pot, conservative Chief Justice William Rehnquist joined Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Clarence Thomas in the dissenting opinion.

Thomas commented that if Congress could regulate a product that was never bought or sold or taken across state lines, it could regulate anything. In the dissent, Justice O'Connor defended the right "that a single courageous state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country."

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