The recent opinion of the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in Raich v. Gonzalez, (March 14, 2007), once again draws the spotlight on the conflicting provisions of federal drug laws, which all but prohibit possession of marijuana under any circumstances, and California’s laws that permit the use of “medical marijuana” upon a doctor’s recommendation. Unfortunately, this case does not provide a resolution to this conflict in the laws, and it appears that it will take an act of Congress, if indeed Congress is willing to act on this issue, before there will be any consistency between California’s medical marijuana laws and the federal drug laws.
More than ten years ago, the voters in California passed Proposition 215. Proposition 215, known as the “Compassionate Use Act of 1996,” was enacted to ensure that “seriously ill Californians have the right to obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes where that medical use is deemed appropriate and has been recommended by a physician who has determined that the person’s health would benefit from the use of marijuana in the treatment of cancer, anorexia, AIDS, chronic pain, spasticity, glaucoma, arthritis, migraine, or any other illness for which marijuana provides relief.” As such, the law states that it is the intent of the law that “patients and their primary caregivers who obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes upon the recommendation of a physician are not subject to criminal prosecution or sanction.” It was the stated hope that the enacting this law would “encourage the federal and state governments to implement a plan to provide for the safe and affordable distribution of marijuana to all patients in medical need of marijuana.”
While ten other states, i.e., Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington, have followed California’s lead in this regard by passing laws that decriminalize medical marijuana to some varying degree or another, the United States government has not seen fit to follow suit. Under the federal Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970, marijuana is classified as a “Schedule I drug” meaning that, according to federal authorities, marijuana has a “high potential for abuse” and, furthermore, it “has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and, lastly, marijuana has a “lack of accepted safety for use … under medical supervision.” The federal law provides for stiff criminal penalties for anyone who might “possess” or “manufacture, distribute, or dispense, or possess with intent to manufacture, distribute, or dispense” marijuana. Simple possession of marijuana is generally a misdemeanor under federal law and, on conviction; one could be punished by imprisonment for up to one year and/or a fine of at least $1,000.00. 21 U.S.C. § 844(a). The fact that such a sanction exists does provide a person contemplating use of “medical marijuana” here in California, or in other states with “medical marijuana” laws, with some pause for thought, since he federal law does not permit a person to possess marijuana “upon the recommendation of a physician” and even if one has such a recommendation, such fact likely would not serve to shield one from a federal prosecution.
Continue reading "Medical Marijuana Use - Legal or Not?" »