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Jun 18, 2005 | The state of Oregon resumed issuing medical-marijuana registration cards after its Attorney General concluded the June 6 ruling by the United States Supreme Court did not invalidate the state’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.

The state has warned those in the program, however, that registration will not protect them from federal prosecution for drug possession should the United States government choose to pursue them. 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.

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permits the cultivation and use of marijuana under specific circumstances for medical purposes, are subject to being superceded by the federal government’s authority to regulate interstate commerce.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.  

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.

In passing on this issue from a purely legal perspective, the decision also fails to address the very practical matter of: Who will arrest and prosecute critically or terminally ill people simply for growing a few plants for the purely medical purpose of alleviating their constant, excruciating pain?

Besides; 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? The answers to these questions are obvious and, for that reason, 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 and the state of Oregon may have fired the first shot.

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