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Jun 30, 2005 |

Oregon will officially resume issuing medical-marijuana registration cards today after its Attorney General, Hardy Meyers, concluded the June 6 ruling by the United States Supreme Court “has no legal impact on the operation of Oregon’s program.”

The Human Services Department had continued to process applications but had not issued any new registration cards until Oregon Attorney General Hardy Meyers rendered an opinion that nothing in the Supreme Court decision prevented the program from continuing.

In Oregon, patients qualify for a medical-marijuana card if a state-licensed physician verifies they suffer from certain serious medical conditions including cancer, HIV/AIDS, glaucoma, or severe pain and that they may benefit from marijuana use. Oregon voters approved the program in 1998 and, since then, 10,421 cards have been issued.  

Attorney General Meyers found the Supreme Court decision “does not hold the state laws regulating medical marijuana are invalid nor does it require states to repeal existing medical marijuana laws.” Meyers has also concluded that the decision does not compel any state to enforce federal drug laws and does not require a state to tell patients they could be prosecuted under federal laws.

In its 6 to 3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that statutes like the California Compassionate Use Act of 1996, which permits the cultivation and use of marijuana under specific circumstances for medical purposes, are subject to being superceded by the federal government’s authority to regulate interstate commerce.

Thus, while not declaring California’s statute to be unconstitutional or void for any reason, the 6 Justice majority simply ruled that Congress has “the power to prohibit the local cultivation and use of marijuana in compliance with California law.”

Clearly, the state laws are still on the books. Doctors may still prescribe the use of marijuana for medical purposes without being criminally liable and there was no determination that the underlying purpose of the laws was flawed from a medical perspective.

In addition, the Court did not (and could not) compel state law enforcement authorities to enforce the ruling. This leaves overburdened federal law enforcement agencies like the DEA, ATF, and FBI to monitor 11 states (at present) for cases where critically ill patients may be growing a few marijuana plants for the relief of excruciating pain.  

Although federal law enforcement officers did raid a number of medical marijuana facilities in California last week which were considered “fronts” for illegal marijuana production and sales, it seems unlikely the initiative can be sustained over the long run and in all of the states having such programs,

The chances of those agencies making anything but token efforts to seize such small amounts of the substance is unlikely especially in an area where local law enforcement authorities have always been primarily responsible for policing the matter.

From a purely legal perspective, the Supreme Court decision also fails to address the very practical matter of: Would any jury in a state which already passed a law allowing for such “compassionate use” of marijuana ever convict anyone who disobeyed the Supreme Court’s decision in an effort to alleviate their constant, excruciating pain?      

Many critically or terminally ill people who have been helped by the “compassionate use” laws have already stated that they will continue to use marijuana for medical purposes.

While the White House has taken the position that the Supreme Court decision puts the matter to rest, the facts would seem to indicate that the battle has only just begun since the Rhode Island legislature approved the use of medical marijuana Tuesday night.

Although Gov. Donald L. Carcieri vetoed the bill Wednesday evening, saying it would encourage marijuana use, sanction criminal activity and make the drug more available to children, it appears those supporting the bill have the necessary three-fifths vote in each heavily democratic chamber of the legislature to override the veto. The bill passed the Senate 33 to 1 after a 52 to 10 vote in the House.

If the veto is overridden, Rhode Island will become the 11th state to allow medical marijuana, and the first to do so after the Supreme Court ruling.

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