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Supreme Court Rules Against Medical Marijuana

Justices Say Federal Government Can Prosecute in States That Have Legalized Medical Marijuana

Debating the Role of the FDA

Medical marijuana opponents say that any of the drug's potential benefits can be realized by prescription forms of THC. One drug, Marinol, is available in the U.S. A liquid form, known as Sativex, was approved in April in Canada.

Opponents of medical marijuana also caution that states passing medical marijuana laws or popular ballot initiatives are dangerously bypassing the FDA.

The agency is set up to systematically review the risks and benefits of drugs using scientific evaluations that the public cannot access on its own, says Richard L. DuPont, MD, a professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University and former White House Drug Czar from 1973 to 1978.

"For a hundred years, we have worked out a system that is designed to protect the public health based on efficacy and safety. The idea that you would have medicines approved by ballot initiative is really frightening to me in terms of the public health," says DuPont, who co-authored an amicus brief supporting the Bush administration in the case.

Others, including California's biggest doctors' group, see the threat of federal drug raids as an inappropriate intrusion into the physician-patient relationship.

"We think that there's still a lot to learn about the efficacy of medical marijuana. But the government was deciding on behalf of doctors and patients what the appropriate care is, and that is inappropriate," says Jack Lewin, MD, a family physician and CEO of the California Medical Association.

Other cases testing the legality of marijuana are likely to follow. In another case currently in federal court in California, activists are trying to show that the Constitution gives patients the right to ease their suffering with now illegal marijuana.

"Raich will not be the end or the final work in the federal courts," Abrahamson says.

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