Court Allows Medicinal Use of Marijuana

The Ninth Circuit federal appeals court has refused to reconsider its Raich-Monson decision that allows Californians to grow and use marijuana to treat their illnesses. Not a single judge on the circuit voted to accept the government’s request for reconsideration. The government’s only recourse to reverse the Raich-Monson decision is to appeal to the Supreme Court. The government has 90 days to file a petition for certiorari. An article about this decision by Dean Murphy appeared in the New York Times.

SAN FRANCISCO, Feb. 26 – The federal appeals court here has refused to reconsider its ruling that allows Californians to grow and use marijuana to treat their illnesses.

The Bush administration had asked the court, for the Ninth Circuit, to hold a new hearing on that ruling, issued by a three-judge panel in December on a lawsuit filed by two women with chronic illnesses. But in an order issued Wednesday and made public on Thursday, the court denied the request.

Justice Department officials declined to comment on the order or whether it would be appealed to the Supreme Court. Medicinal-marijuana advocates said it would allow tens of thousands of people in California and six other Western states with laws that permit such marijuana use to continue it without fearing federal prosecution.

The new order “means medical marijuana patients throughout the Western states can sleep easier tonight,” Steph Sherer, executive director of the advocacy group Americans for Safe Access, said in a statement.

Though California voters approved a 1996 ballot measure legalizing medicinal use of marijuana, federal officials have continued prosecutions under the interstate commerce clause of the Controlled Substances Act.

In its 2-to-1 vote in December, the court found that medicinal marijuana “does not have any direct or obvious effect on interstate commerce” when it is grown locally for personal consumption under the advice of a physician and when patients do not pay for it.

Writing for himself and Judge Richard A. Paez, Judge Harry Pregerson said such use of the drug was “different in kind from drug trafficking.” Judge C. Arlen Beam dissented.