Ruling Marks First Federal Support of Medical Marijuana
By Gerri Elder
The use of medical marijuana and gay marriage fall into the same category, legally speaking. Both are legal under specific state laws, yet neither is allowed under federal law.
A report by the National Law Journal highlights a recent historic decision by a federal judge regarding the use of medical marijuana.
The ruling will allow medical marijuana advocates in California to go forward with a case alleging that the federal government has routinely embarked on drug law enforcement campaigns that have been designed to undermine the principles of California state law. The lawsuit claims that this pattern of drug law enforcement violates the U.S. Constitution.
Santa Cruz County will be allowed to go forward with the claim that federal authorities violate the U.S. Constitution by frustrating California's ability to make the determination as to whether or not a person's use of marijuana is legally allowed for medical reasons, or if the marijuana is being used illegally as a recreational drug.
Medical marijuana advocates say that the federal government is on a mission to force states that have medical marijuana laws to repeal them. This, they claim, violates the 10th amendment of the Constitution.
In states that allow it, medical marijuana is prescribed to relieve pain and nausea and is especially helpful for terminally ill patients and people undergoing chemotherapy. It is also used by people who are recovering from injuries and those who suffer from degenerative joint disease or debilitating migraine headaches. The symptoms of many other injuries, illnesses, conditions and diseases are also eased by the use of medical marijuana.
The Litigation over Medical Marijuana Laws
The issue of medical marijuana has become a legal tug-of-war between the federal government and states with medical marijuana laws. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the federal government has the authority to enforce federal marijuana laws.
However, federal marijuana laws conflict with the medical marijuana laws that have been passed in 12 states.
The recent ruling by U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel in San Jose, California is the first instance in which state medical marijuana laws have received some federal backing. The decision was somewhat unexpected, as a previous ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court dealt a devastating blow to the medical marijuana movement.
The U.S. Supreme Court held in Gonzales v. Raich that the authority of Congress' Commerce Clause includes the power to prohibit the cultivation and use of marijuana, even if it is done in compliance with California law.
Following the Supreme Court's decision in Gonzales v. Raich, officials in Santa Cruz, California boldly passed an ordinance to create a government office to dispense medical marijuana directly to patients.
The County of Santa Cruz then filed a lawsuit against the U.S attorney general. The lawsuit alleges that the aggressive and targeted drug law enforcement by the federal government has crippled California's ability to implement and enforce its laws. The suit goes on to say the federal government has taken action to attempt to force the state to repeal its medical marijuana law.
It is also alleged in the lawsuit that federal prosecutors have threatened to punish doctors in California who recommend marijuana to patients and have attempted to intimidate officials who issue medical marijuana ID cards. The County of Santa Cruz also alleges that federal officials have interfered with zoning plans to allow medical marijuana dispensaries and have arrested providers who have cooperated closely with municipalities.
The lawsuit also claims that the actions of the federal government make it impossible for the state to differentiate between legal and illegal marijuana use in California.
In response to the lawsuit, the federal government cited the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision which held that the plain terms of the Controlled Substances Act do not violate the 10th Amendment by directing actions of the state. Based on this ruling, lawyers for the federal government argued that Santa Cruz did not have a case and the lawsuit should be dismissed.
Fogel refused to dismiss the case and ruled that the case may now move forward. Although advocates cannot yet declare victory, the decision does mark a milestone in the medical marijuana movement.