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High court to hear arguments in medical marijuana case

WASHINGTON (BP)–The U.S. Supreme Court will determine whether marijuana may be used for medicinal purposes.

The high court announced June 28 it would review a federal appeals court decision permitting marijuana to be used medically by those who grow it or obtain it without cost. The justices will hear oral arguments in the case after the new term begins in October.

A panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, based in San Francisco, ruled in a 2-1 December vote that medical use of marijuana in a state that has legalized it is allowed if a patient has a doctor’s permission, the drug is free and there is no interstate commerce involved. In February, the panel rejected the federal government’s request to rehear arguments in the case.

The ruling continues to affect 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.

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

Opponents of medical 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. Advocates of medical marijuana argue the illegal drug provides pain relief for some patients that prescription drugs do not.

The case, Ashcroft v. Raich, involves two women who have used marijuana for health problems. Angel Raich has used marijuana grown and provided without charge by 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.

In October, the Supreme Court took a hands-off approach to the appeal of another marijuana decision from the Ninth Circuit. The justices refused to review an opinion from that circuit that blocked the federal government from punishing doctors who recommend the use of marijuana to patients. The Ninth Circuit is considered the most liberal appeals court in the country

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

Two states outside the Ninth Circuit allow medical marijuana use: Colorado and Maine.

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