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Supreme Court Rules Against Medical Marijuana Use

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The Supreme Court ruled Monday that the federal government can prosecute the sick for the medical use of marijuana, even in states where it is legal. In a 6-3 ruling, the court agreed with the Bush administration that the regulation of controlled substances, including marijuana, is the province of Congress without exception. [includes rush transcript]

Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the majority “If there is any conflict between federal and state law, federal law shall prevail.”

The ruling does not strike down laws in 11 states that allow medicinal use of marijuana. The court was not asked to declare such statutes illegal. But the decision does mean that those laws will not protect anyone using medical marijuana from federal prosecution should a U.S. attorney or the Justice Department decide to bring charges.

The latest ruling stems from a lawsuit brought in 2002 by two women — Diana Monson and Angel Raich — who have used marijuana to gain relief from excruciating pain under recommendation from their doctors. After DEA agents raided Monson”s home, they sued the government to stop further raids.

Monday’s Supreme Court ruling reverses a decision of a San Francisco appeals court. Raich spoke to reporters shortly after the decision was announced.

  • Angel Raich

Shortly after the Supreme Court ruling yesterday, we spoke with medical marijuana rights activist, Ed Rosenthal. He is a leading authority on cannabis and has served as an expert witness on marijuana cultivation in federal and state trials. He was arrested by federal agents in 2002 has since been convicted on three marijuana cultivation felonies. I began by asking him about his arrest.

  • Ed Rosenthal

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Raich spoke to reporters yesterday shortly after the decision was announced.

ANGEL RAICH: Just because the Supreme Court today has ruled against me does not mean that the war on patients should begin. It means that it’s time for the federal government to have some compassion and have some heart. And to please use common sense. Do not waste taxpayers’ dollars by coming in and locking us up. We’re ill. We’re not trying to be disobedient. We’re just using this medicine, because it’s what’s saving our lives.

AMY GOODMAN: Angel Raich, one of the two women who sued the government in 2002 over the medical use of marijuana. Shortly after the Supreme Court ruling yesterday we talked with medical marijuana rights activist, Ed Rosenthal, who joined us in our studio. We’re going to break and we come back and talk to him about the significance of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling.


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AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, the War and Peace Report, as we talk now about the U.S. Supreme Court decision, turning to marijuana rights activist, Ed Rosenthal, a leading authority on cannabis, has served as an expert witness on marijuana cultivation in federal and state trials, arrested by federal agents in 2002. He has since been convicted on three marijuana cultivation felonies. I began by asking him about his own arrest.

ED ROSENTHAL: I was growing starter plants so that patients could grow their own marijuana, and the federal government came and arrested me at 6:00 a.m. I ran downstairs. I thought a neighbor might need help. I was naked. Luckily, that way they couldn’t shoot me. I had nothing hidden. They saw everything. And they were looking for — and then they went over to my nursery, which was in a 1,500 square foot building; it was about 400 square feet of cultivation, and this was a big Oakland warehouse that they were talking about. And what they found there was mother plants and cuttings so that — that were being rooted so that patients could use them. And then I went to trial. And the judge wouldn’t let the jury hear that I was an officer of the City of Oakland or that I had been — that I was growing the plants for patients, and they arrested me two hours after they found me guilty.

AMY GOODMAN: So they convicted you?

ED ROSENTHAL: They convicted me two hours after I was found guilty. The jury started calling the news media saying that they were duped, that they felt dirty, that they had been conned by the government because they hadn’t been able to hear the whole story, which was that I was an officer of the city growing medical marijuana.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what you mean when you say you were an officer of the City of Oakland.

ED ROSENTHAL: The city created a position called an officer — a health officer of the city to cultivate and specifically allowed us to cultivate marijuana. The city’s theory was that officers working for the city and fed — city and state governments are protected from the drug laws. For instance, a narcotics officer who carries or sells marijuana, if there wasn’t something to protect him, he could be arrested. So that was — under that same idea, they thought I was protected, and the city government told me that I was protected. I was sworn in. I was congratulated for being sworn in by city people. And then when it came time to the trial, the judge would not let the jury hear that.

AMY GOODMAN: And yet, when were you sentenced, he did.

ED ROSENTHAL: Yes. There was so much public pressure, and it was so much of an issue in the area, that the — I think, that the judge felt that it was better for the federal government to concede a little. So he didn’t want the damage that would have been done to drug laws if I had been jailed. And what the judge did was he sentenced me to one day in prison, time served.

AMY GOODMAN: And you had served already. But now, your case —

ED ROSENTHAL: They owe me twelve hours.

AMY GOODMAN: Your case remains in court.



ED ROSENTHAL: And it’s been held in stasis until this decision. And they were going to base their decision in part on this decision on what happened with the Raich case, but in my case there were so many irregularities and technical deficiencies. For instance, the judge himself said that the prosecutor had lied to the grand jury, but he said that that was of no significance.

AMY GOODMAN: Lied about what?

ED ROSENTHAL: Well, he said to the grand jury that they were — that when he got the indictment, that they were going after these big, big drug dealers and they weren’t going after the medical marijuana clubs. And that was an out and out lie.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what this whole movement is about, what these clubs are, why you are so committed to it.

ED ROSENTHAL: Well, medical marijuana can help literally millions of people in the United States, and I don’t want to go into the whole medical thing of it, but basically we have receptor sites in various parts of our body for a natural cannabinoid. It’s called anandomide. And because of that, it’s a very effective drug for many situations, from nausea, headaches, different kinds of pains, aches, stress release. And it goes on. And there are a lot of scientific studies on this done both in this country on animals and outside the country on humans. It’s the safest medicine that you can have. There’s never been a recorded case of a person dying from the use of marijuana. Just none. So that’s what this is about.

AMY GOODMAN: Angel Raich’s story?

ED ROSENTHAL: She has inoperable brain cancer. And the cancer has been held in check by constant use of marijuana. It isn’t growing. She’s not the only one. There’s a fellow by the name of Steve Kubby, who was brought to trial in California on state charges, who has — who also has inoperable brain cancer. So she sued — so Angel, along with Diane Munson sued the federal government so that she could obtain — to protect her sources of marijuana who were giving it to her for free, and there was no commerce. So she said since the nexus of the federal laws to the state’s is commerce, and since there was no commerce, that she should be free from the federal laws, and in a contradiction, the Supreme Court actually ruled — just now ruled that even though there wasn’t commerce, this affects commerce.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the Supreme Court Justices who dissented. Three of them, Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Justice Clarence Thomas, and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

ED ROSENTHAL: Well, you know, they’re part of that ultra right Republican group that believes in states’ rights above everything, and that’s why they voted for this. This is a — this was a states’ rights issue. First, it’s a marijuana exception to the Constitution. And the marijuana exception to the Constitution says that even though it might be unconstitutional because it’s such a dangerous drug, even though it hasn’t killed anybody ever, it should — we can abridge or abrogate the other Constitutional provisions to keep marijuana from people. And they’ve said that so many — there have been so many cases regarding marijuana, and each time they ruled against it, and they used spurious grounds to rule against it. And, in fact, this case actually, I think it’s made great progress, because it’s the first time that it wasn’t a unanimous decision against marijuana. We’ve won three. Now we just need another two.

AMY GOODMAN: So where do you see this whole movement going right now? Do you see this as a tremendous setback?

ED ROSENTHAL: No, I see it as an advance. As I said, this is the first time Supreme Court Justices have ever ruled in favor of marijuana. We have got three of them, we just need another two. And, you know, Plessy v. — you know, I don’t think we’ll have the same time frame, but this is sort of like a little past Plessy v. Ferguson in the Civil Rights Movement, and where the — originally the Supreme Court caused a setback in integration and fair treatment of races, but on the other hand this is going to cause — there’s a lot of — every time that the federal government has tried to do something with marijuana, there has been blowback. In 1937 marijuana was made illegal. There were 50,000 marijuana users, now there are 50 million. That’s pretty, you know — look at that blowback.

AMY GOODMAN: How does the U.S. compare to the rest of the world?

ED ROSENTHAL: In terms of — let’s talk about, you know, the democracies in European countries that we compare ourselves with, it’s just like with — similar to the death penalty, except, you know, where the United States is in the Dark Ages, and the European governments are much more enlightened, except for one thing, the majority of voting Americans believe that medical marijuana should be legal. And every time they’ve had chance to vote for it, they voted in favor of it in all of these initiatives in 10 different states. And also the majority of people in the United States, while they don’t think that marijuana as a whole should be legal, they don’t think that marijuana users should go to jail. And that’s significant. And take this, for instance: if a kid uses marijuana and gets convicted of a marijuana misdemeanor, they’re ineligible for any federal government help with their education. It’s something that doesn’t happen to rapists, burglars, any other kind of criminal class, just drug users, marijuana specifically.

AMY GOODMAN: They can never get a federal grant again for their education?

ED ROSENTHAL: Life. For their life, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Ed Rosenthal, I want to thank you very much for being with us.

ED ROSENTHAL: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Ed Rosenthal is with Green Aid, a long time marijuana rights activist.

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