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Federal appeals court continues to permit medical marijuana

WASHINGTON (BP)–A federal appeals court has refused to reconsider a ruling permitting medical use of marijuana, despite a request by the Bush administration.

The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals declined the federal government’s request to rehear arguments on the December opinion by a three-judge panel of the court, The New York Times reported. In that decision, the panel voted 2-1 to allow marijuana to be used medically by those who grow it or obtain it for free.

The Bush administration refused to say if it would appeal the Feb. 25 order to the U.S. Supreme Court, according to The Times.

In the Ninth Circuit’s December ruling, the medical use of marijuana was upheld as permissible in a state that allows it, as long as a patient has a doctor’s permission and there is no payment for the drug nor any interstate commerce.

With the appeals court’s Feb. 25 order, the ruling continues to stand in the nine states in the Ninth Circuit. Seven of those states have laws permitting medical use of marijuana: Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.

Opponents of medicinal marijuana contend the campaign for such use will advance efforts to decriminalize the substance, which is the most commonly abused illicit drug in the country and often leads to the use of even more dangerous drugs.

The case, Raich v. Ashcroft, involves two women who have used marijuana for health problems. Angel Raich has used marijuana grown and provided without charge by two friends to treat several serious medical conditions, including a brain tumor. Diane Monson has used marijuana she has grown to treat severe back pain and muscle spasms.

The Ninth Circuit ruling and recent order followed an October decision by the Supreme Court not to review an opinion from the same circuit blocking the federal government from punishing doctors who recommend the use of marijuana to patients. In 2002, a Ninth Circuit panel upheld a federal judge’s permanent injunction barring the federal government from revoking or threatening to revoke a doctor’s license to prescribe drugs if he has recommended marijuana use.

The Controlled Substances Act, a federal law enacted in 1970, prohibits the use of marijuana and other drugs.

California voters legalized medicinal marijuana use by approving the Compassionate Use Act in a 1996 referendum.

In 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against marijuana cooperatives in another case, barring them from distributing the drug for medical purposes.

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