The Legal Intelligencer
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 30, 1998
R E G I O N A L N E W S
Judge Proposes DOJ Establish Program
To Distribute Marijuana to Sick Folks
BY SHANNON P. DUFFY
U.S. Courthouse Correspondent
A federal judge is urging the Justice
Department to establish a program to make marijuana available to anyone whose medical
condition could be improved by it.
Yesterday, the Justice Department asked for 60 days to think it over.
According to court papers, U.S. District Judge Marvin Katz made the suggestion as a proposed settlement in Kuromiya, et al. v. United States, a class-action suit brought on behalf of citizens who claim that the prohibition of marijuana is unconstitutional since it is the best cure for their ailments - everything from AIDS to Lou Gehrig's disease.
The 128-page lawsuit, filed by Lawrence Elliott Hirsch of the Hirsch & Caplan Public Interest Law Firm, tells the stories of about 160 plaintiffs from 49 states. Many say they have been forced to break the law and to pay exorbitant prices for the drug. Others say they simply suffer because they fear jail.
Hirsch argues the enactment of laws prohibiting the use of cannabis without amending the constitution is unconstitutional. "The right to consume, ingest or smoke a plant that grows wild in nature, such as cannabis, is subordinate to, and more fundamental than the right to vote," Hirsch wrote.
The Justice Department moved to dismiss the case, saying Hirsch has no chance of winning any relief.
"It is well-settled that the Controlled Substances Act provisions are a valid exercise of Congress' Commerce Clause powers," attorney Arthur R. Goldberg and Gail K. Levine of the Justice Department's civil division argued.
But just two week after that brief was filed, it seems Judge Katz is urging DOJ to think about settling the case instead of fighting it.
In a recent conference, Katz proposed a settlement order which the goverment would agree to establish a "carefully monitored" and "scientifically controlled" program to distribute marijuana to "individuals whose medical conditions could be improved by it," according to court papers filed yesterday.
The settlement would also require the government to provide any useful, scientific research results "that would help decide whether marijuana is medically beneficial or not."
According to court papers, Katz asked the Justice Department how much time it needed to consider his proposal.
The answer came yersterday in a two-page court filing by Goldberg and Levine that said DOJ would need "at least 60 days."
That much time is needed, they said, "to consider the appropriate management officials within the agencies and divisions of agencies implicated by the proposal."
Attorney Hirsch could not be reached for comment.