Tony Newman at 646-335-5384
On Monday, November 29, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case of Raich v. Ashcroft, which concerns the right of patients to control their excruciating pain by using doctor recommended medicine, without the fear of federal criminal prosecution. The Drug Policy Alliance filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of medical, public health and patients’ rights organizations emphasizing that there are fundamental liberty interests at stake in this case — that seriously ill patients should have primary responsibility for determining the course of their own medical treatment.
“This case is not just about states’ rights,” said Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “It’s about whether the federal government can and should treat an American citizen like a criminal for using a medicine that’s been approved by her doctor, validated in scientific studies and legalized by state law.”
The Alliance brief was filed on behalf of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, California Medical Association, Pain Relief Network, AIDS Action Council and others. It argues that forcing patients to sacrifice effective pain relief and endure needless suffering runs contrary to America’s legal tradition and the basic norms of medical ethics. Acute and chronic pain can undermine an individual’s autonomy, and, if not treated, a person’s will to live. The Alliance brief argues that the U.S. Constitution protects patients from having federal law enforcement officers seize and destroy their physician-approved medicine and subject them to arrest and federal prosecution for the use of their medicine.
The Raich case was initiated by Angel McClary Raich and Diane Monson, two patients with debilitating medical conditions, who, in accordance with California law, use medical marijuana on the recommendation of their physicians. The patients filed a complaint to prevent the federal government from confiscating their medical marijuana and prosecuting them for using the only medication that has effectively helped treat their symptoms. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Bush administration lacked the power to prosecute these patients under federal law because their use of marijuana did not implicate interstate commerce, the triggering authority for the exercise of federal police powers. The United States Supreme Court is reviewing that ruling.
Ten states — California, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Nevada, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Vermont and Montana — have passed laws making medical marijuana legal to patients who have a recommendation from their doctor. The Raich case does not impact patients’ rights under these state laws or the ability of other states to pass similar laws.
The Drug Policy Alliance has fought, and continues to fight to allow seriously ill patients throughout America to access medical marijuana to relieve their pain. The Alliance served as attorneys of record in the case Conant v. Walters, which upheld the First Amendment right of doctors to candidly discuss and recommend medical marijuana to patients free from federal threats or interference. The Alliance currently represents the city and county of Santa Cruz, seven terminally and chronically ill patients and the Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana (WAMM) in a federal lawsuit seeking to enable a collective of seriously ill patients to grow and use medical marijuana free from federal law enforcement interference.