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California Appeals Court Sets Aside Federal Marijuana Law

By Hempology | December 18, 2003

From Reuters News, December 17th, 2003

By Adam Tanner

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – A federal appeals court allowed two very sick California women on Tuesday to use marijuana, setting aside longstanding federal drug laws that bar such cultivation even for medical purposes.

Growing marijuana for medical purposes is legal in California under a 1996 voter-approved state law, but the measure clashes with federal law.

Angel Raich, who has an inoperable brain tumor, and Diane Monson, who suffers from severe back pain, last year sued U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft. They sought an injunction against the act, saying the 1970 federal Controlled Substances Act was unconstitutional.

A district court ruled against the women in March, but in a rare afternoon ruling, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco reversed the decision.

“We find that the appellants’ 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,” the three-judge panel ruled.

“Further, the limited medical use of marijuana as recommended by a physician arguably does not raise the same policy concerns regarding the spread of drug abuse.”

The liberal court, with one judge dissenting, said the Controlled Substances Act was likely unconstitutional as applied to the women.

“We find that the appellants have made a strong showing of the likelihood of success on the merits of their case,” the decision read. “We find that the hardship and public interest factors tip sharply in the appellants’ favor.”

In his dissent, Judge C. Arlen Beam wrote: “Plaintiffs do not show there is a threat of future prosecution or a history of past prosecutions, at least as applied to their unique factual situations. I would doubt whether anyone can or will seriously argue that the DEA intends to prosecute these two seriously ill individuals.”

The Supreme Court has often overturned the 9th Circuit on cases it has chosen to review, and lower court decisions on marijuana have sometimes provoked anger from the Bush administration.

One such instance that irked White House officials involved a federal judge sentencing “ganja guru” Ed Rosenthal in June to a single day in jail — the minimum possible punishment — for growing marijuana in violation of federal law.

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