Friday, October 14, 2005

Online NewsHour: Supreme Court Rules Medical Marijuana Users Are Subject to Prosecution -- June 6, 2005

GWEN IFILL, PBS NewsHour, discusses the Supreme Court ruling on medical marijuana, June 6, 2005, with Jan Crawford Greenburg of the Chicago Tribune.


GWEN IFILL: So the court today, did they just flat outlaw medical -- medicinal use of marijuana?

JAN CRAWFORD GREENBURG: What they said today was that federal law, federal drug laws that outlaw the use of medical marijuana trump laws in up to 11 states that had allowed terminally ill patients to smoke marijuana for medical purposes.

The court's ruling today means that terminally ill patients who choose to use marijuana for medical reasons can now be subject to arrest and prosecution for violating the federal drug laws.

GWEN IFILL: But is it the federal drug laws or the federal commerce laws which were the controlling laws of this case?

JAN CRAWFORD GREENBURG: The federal drug laws. And Congress got authority to pass those federal drug laws from the U.S. Constitution and the commerce clause, and it argued -- the Justice Department in defending the application of those laws in these kind of cases -- argued that Congress was well within its authority to regulate the use of medical marijuana, even in states like California and others thought it should be allowed for those purposes.

And the court in its decision today, 6-3 decision, agreed that Congress was within its power under the commerce clause of the Constitution to pass these kind of laws, even though they didn't -- you know, when it looked at it on its face, it didn't look like they had much to do with interstate commerce.

A state or federal government right to legislate?

Interpretations of the Supreme Court ruling

GWEN IFILL: Now, two interpretations of today's ruling. They come from Calvina Fay, executive director of the Drug Free America Foundation, an organization that favors tougher drug laws and enforcement; and Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance, an advocacy group favoring legalization of medical marijuana and changing other drug laws.

CALVINA FAY: I think it remains to be seen how each one of those states will address this issue now with this ruling, but I think it definitely will have a chilling effect on the states that are being targeted. Those that are advocating for the out and out legalization of all drugs, including the organization that Mr. Nadelmann represents, have said they're targeting 23 states in our country this year to legalize marijuana as a medicine. And I think those states will think twice about it, and I think they will look more carefully at the issue, and I do want to encourage the viewers to look at those organizations that he claims have endorsed marijuana as medicine.

ETHAN NADELMANN: Well, I mean, first of all most of the studies -- you can go to the Web site,; you can go to the web site of the National Institute of Health and pop in "therapeutic cannabis" and you can find ample documentation for what I'm talking about.

The bottom line is thousands of doctors, New England Journal of Medicine, the British Medical Journal, the Lancer, have all said very clearly that marijuana works. In the pill form which Calvina is talking about, it works for some people. But there are good studies to show that smoking it or eating the cannabis form actually works a lot better. People are able to titrate their dose; they're able to limit their intake. That drug Marinol can make people just as high or even higher.

The bottom line is this is an effective medicine that works. And the notion that people should be criminalized or should be persecuted that because they find this medicine most optimal, that's a horrific thing. The Bush administration talks about compassionate conservatism this is a place where they can lay it on the line and really show what they're talking about. (more)