Supreme Court Set to Hear First Ever
Oral Argument on Medical Marijuana
March 26, 2001
WASHINGTON, D.C. On
Wednesday, March 28, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral argument from attorneys who say
that federal law permits a necessity defense for people with severe illnesses
who use medical marijuana. The Courts ruling in U.S. v. Oakland Cannabis
Buyers Cooperative (No. 00-151) will become the first opinion by the
nations highest court on the topic of medical marijuana.
Eight states currently protect
people who use or grow marijuana with their doctors approval. While Congress has yet
to provide a similar protection under federal statutory law, the Supreme Court has long
permitted a necessity defense to certain federal crimes. In the Oakland case, the
justices are asked to decide whether the necessity defense can be raised in federal court
by the Oakland Cannabis Buyers Cooperative, a not-for-profit organization that
distributes medical marijuana to seriously ill people who have a doctors
recommendation to use the plant.
The necessity defense to
criminal charges is one of the oldest defenses recognized in American jurisprudence,
dating back to English common law. The necessity defense recognizes that in some
situations a person can be justified in breaking a law if abiding by the law would produce
a greater harm. When applied in the medical marijuana context, the issue is whether a
seriously ill person, for whom other medicines have proven unsatisfactory, is justified in
treating his or her illness with marijuana despite the federal criminal prohibition.
A civilized society
should not punish sick people, said Richard Glen Boire, an attorney who frequently
represents medical marijuana users and author of the book Marijuana Law. Boire is
currently director of the Center for Cognitive Liberty & Ethics, a nonprofit law and
policy center that has released studies showing how some
federal drug laws violate fundamental human rights.
Patients and their
doctors should be able to decide what the best treatment options are, and not have their
hands cuffed by police and DEA agents who have no medical training, said Boire.
The War on Drugs is not a metaphor. It is a real war fought by the Government
against its own citizens, and not even sick people are removed from the battlefield.
Hopefully, the justices on the U.S. Supreme Court will take the governments lawyers
to task for such a policy, and ultimately call an end to such barbarism.