More MS news articles for May 2001

Patients: Marijuana Ruling May Spell Return to Streets

Wednesday, May 16, 2001
OAKLAND, Calif. -- Yvonne Westbrook recalls when getting relief from the symptoms of multiple sclerosis meant venturing into seedy parks to buy bags of marijuana from drug dealers.
So she worries that the U.S. Supreme Court's unanimous ruling Monday could mean a return of those days. "Now they've opened us up to the street and all the perils involved," she said.
The court said there is no exception in federal anti-drug laws for patients to use marijuana to ease their pain from cancer, AIDS or other illnesses.
Westbrook is fearful the ruling could mean the end for the dozens of distribution clubs that sprang up after California passed a state law allowing people to grow and possess medical marijuana.
"With the clubs you're able to go to a clean, safe, secure environment," she said.
Voters in Arizona, Alaska, Colorado, Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Washington also approved ballot initiatives allowing the use of medical marijuana. In Hawaii, the Legislature passed a similar law and the governor signed it last year.
Patients like Westbrook could still use marijuana for medical reasons in states that allow it, legal experts said. But it would be more difficult to obtain because distribution violates federal law.
Writing for the court, Justice Clarence Thomas said the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 "reflects a determination that marijuana has no medical benefits worthy of an exception."
In Washington, Attorney General John Ashcroft called the ruling a "victory for enforcement of our nation's drug laws."
California Attorney General Bill Lockyer said it would be reviewed for its effect on California law.
"This decision is not the end of the line by any means," said Robert Raich, an attorney who represented the Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative, a distributor challenged by the federal government.
Raich said the issue of medical necessity was just one of several legal arguments they are ready to make in the future in favor of distribution clubs.
Mendocino County District Attorney Norm Vroman said the ruling would not change the way his office prosecutes drug crimes. In Mendocino, people are permitted up to six mature plants and 2 pounds of dry marijuana.
"If the feds want to prosecute these people they can," he said.
Joel Karlin, of Coloradans Against Legalizing Marijuana, cheered the court decision, saying the narcotic in marijuana is already available in a tablet and will soon be available in a patch. "It's right that the Supreme Court ruled the way it did. "
© Copyright 2001, The Salt Lake Tribune