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Supreme Court Nixes Medical Marijuana


WebMD Health News

May 14, 2001 (Washington) -- The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled Monday that marijuana has no legal "medical" use, giving a major defeat to advocates of the drug's alleged benefits in alleviating symptoms of diseases including AIDS, cancer, and the eye disease glaucoma.

Writing for the high court, Justice Clarence Thomas said, "Congress has made a determination that marijuana has no medical benefits worthy of an exception" for medical use.

The court noted that federal law holds that marijuana has "no currently accepted medical use," since the drug is classified as a "schedule I" controlled substance, the most restrictive category. That categorization means the drug can legally only be cultivated and distributed through government-approved research projects.

The case involved the Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative, which distributed marijuana under California law to those whom a doctor said were in medical need. The cooperative was sued in 1998 by the federal government for violating U.S. law.

A federal district court ordered the cooperative to shut down, but the cooperative appealed and won a ruling from a circuit court that "medical need" would permit an exception to the Controlled Substances Act.

In 1996, California voters had enacted a ballot initiative to permit the cultivation and sale of marijuana for medical purposes.

Voters in seven other states -- Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Maine, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington -- have passed similar initiatives. And last June, the governor of Hawaii signed into law a medical marijuana bill passed by the state's legislature.

Monday's ruling would force Congress to pass a new law in order legalize medical use of marijuana. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) has introduced legislation that would reclassify the illicit leaf as a "schedule II" controlled substance, allowing its use for medical purposes. The bill would also allow doctors to prescribe or recommend marijuana, if it were permitted under state law.

But passing such a measure is unlikely under Republican control of Capitol Hill. Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.) praised the Supreme Court ruling. "The unanimous vote in this case reflects the overwhelming evidence that marijuana has been appropriately and lawfully declared to be a dangerous, mind-altering substance that should not be legalized for whatever contrived reason," he said. "The true aim of those who support the so-called medical marijuana movement, has been ... the legalization of all drugs. Terminally ill patients have been used as pawns in a cynical political game designed to weaken society's opposition to drug abuse."

Jeff Jones, executive director and co-founder of the Oakland co-op, tells WebMD, "We feel that the ruling is heavy handed and misguided and is not in tune with the current feeling of the population of America. It will probably ignite a change in this country which will bring down the medical cannabis law."

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