Federal Judge Denies Access to Pain Relief For Sick and Dying Patients

Press Release August 28, 2003
Media Contact

Shayna Samuels at 646-523-6961

(San Jose, CA) — In a first-of-its kind lawsuit, Judge Jeremy Fogel of San Jose’s Federal District Court dismissed a lawsuit brought by local governments on behalf of sick and dying patients who need medical marijuana for pain relief. The suit — County of Santa Cruz et. al. v. Ashcroft et. al. — was brought by the City and County of Santa Cruz, as well as the Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana (WAMM) and seven medical marijuana patients in response to a federal government raid on WAMM- a medical marijuana collective in Santa Cruz, California.

In dismissing the lawsuit, the federal district court refused the plaintiffs’ request to bar the federal government from continuing to raid medical marijuana collectives that provide much-needed medicine to seriously and terminally ill patients. In recent years, the federal government has conducted nearly a dozen such raids around California, forcing many patients to needlessly endure intense pain and suffering by depriving them of the medicine recommended by their physicians and that worked better than other available alternatives.

The City and County of Santa Cruz had argued that several provisions of the federal Constitution prohibited the federal government from depriving state patients of their needed medicine. The court rejected these claims, ruling that the federal government retained the statutory power to interdict and destroy controlled substances such as marijuana, regardless of its medical efficacy.

“Sadly, the Court’s decision runs against justice, compassion and humanity, and will cause more people to suffer needlessly,” said Daniel Abrahamson, Director of Legal Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance and co-counsel on the case. “While we are clearly disappointed, we plan to appeal this decision and fully expect a more favorable outcome in the next court.”

This case is historic in that it represents the first time a public entity (the City and County of Santa Cruz) has ever joined a petitioner in suing the federal government over a medical marijuana issue. In light of the ongoing tension between state and federal governments regarding the right of sick and dying patients to use medical marijuana, this decision thwarts the will of California’s electorate, who voted in favor of medical marijuana by passing the Compassionate Use Act of 1996. Nine other states have also passed similar laws, including Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.

Hundreds of WAMM members who suffer from AIDS, cancer, epilepsy, chronic pain and other terminal illnesses condemn this decision. They use medical marijuana to relieve the acute and chronic pain, nausea, vomiting and wasting caused by their illnesses and/or the treatments for their illnesses, including chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

“WAMM patients could be anyone’s father or mother or child,” comments Valerie Corral, co-founder of WAMM and one of the named plaintiffs in the case. “Although Judge Fogel recognized the importance of medical marijuana in bringing relief to people who are in pain and often die in our care, it is tragic that this sympathy, compassion, and recognition of medical marijuana’s benefits were not given legal effect.”

The Drug Policy Alliance, the nation’s leading drug policy reform organization and co-counsel on the case, is available for statements, interviews and inquiries.

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