Appeals court rules in favor of medical marijuana

BY Advocate.com Editors

December 19 2003 12:00 AM ET

A three-judge panel of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on Tuesday ruled that the federal government's ban on marijuana use is unconstitutional when applied to people who use it for medicinal reasons in states with laws permitting such use, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The 2-1 ruling says the ban is illegal for those who use the drug under a physician's advice to treat symptoms of such diseases as AIDS and cancer, so long as the marijuana is not sold, transported across state lines, or used for nonmedicinal reasons. Federal controlled-substances laws ban the use of marijuana in all cases. California is one of eight states to have a law permitting medical marijuana use.

The case before the appeals court involved two California women who filed a lawsuit against U.S. attorney general John Ashcroft and Drug Enforcement Agency administrator Asa Hutchinson to seek an injunction that would allow them to use medicinal marijuana without fear of federal prosecution. A district judge in March ruled against the women, who appealed the case to the ninth circuit court.

The circuit court's decision says the two women's "class of activities--the intrastate, noncommercial cultivation, possession, and use of marijuana for personal medical purposes on the advice of a physician--is, in fact, different in kind from drug-trafficking" and as such falls outside the federal government's jurisdiction. The court's ruling affects six other states under its jurisdiction--Arizona, Oregon, Washington State, Nevada, Alaska, and Hawaii--that also have medical marijuana laws.

Federal officials in California said they are now awaiting direction from Washington, D.C., as to how to enforce the federal Controlled Substances Act while the case is being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which already has rejected some medical marijuana rights. The high court ruled in May 2001 that there is no exemption in federal drug laws for the use of medical marijuana and that growing, possession, or use of the drug is always illegal.

Tags: Health

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