March 28, 2001
High Court Mulls "Medical
Necessity" for Marijuana Providers,
Avoids Federal Supremacy Question
DC: Supreme Court justices heard arguments for the first time today on
whether organizations or individuals who violate federal marijuana laws may
raise the defense of "medical necessity" to avoid a criminal
conviction. Lawyers for the Justice Department appealed a Ninth Circuit
Court of Appeals decision rendered in July that stipulates there exists a class
of patients who benefit medically from marijuana, and that they should not face
federal criminal penalties for using it. The Ninth Circuit decision added
that this legal protection should also extend to organizations that supply such
patients with marijuana.
NORML Executive Director R. Keith Stroup said that a majority of justices appeared skeptical that the medical necessity defense should protect third party providers such as the Oakland Cannabis Buyers’ Cooperative, but seemed sympathetic to the use of medical marijuana by individual patients.
Stroup further added that regardless of how the Supreme Court rules, state laws allowing qualified patients to use marijuana medicinally remain safely intact. “The case before the Court today is not a legal challenge to California’s Proposition 215, nor is it a threat to any of the additional eight medical marijuana-use laws passed since 1996,” he said. “In fact, the justices noted and the attorney for the Justice Department admitted that the question of federal supremacy as it pertains to the legality of state medical marijuana laws is not at issue here.”
Since 1996, nine states – Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Washington – have adopted legislation exempting patients who use marijuana under their doctor’s supervision from criminal penalties under state law. To date, federal officials have not challenged the legality of any of those measures. Justice Department officials did initially threaten to sanction physicians who recommended marijuana to their patients in accordance with state law. However, a federal court enjoined the government from doing so, finding that a physician’s right to discuss marijuana therapy with a patient is constitutionally protected. Justice officials later filed a civil suit in federal court against six California medical marijuana dispensaries, including the Oakland club. The Oakland Cooperative, which continues to operate as a patient resource center but no longer distributes medical marijuana, was the sole defendant in today’s case.
For more information, please contact Keith Stroup, NORML Executive Director, at (202) 483-5500.
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