Medical Marijuana a Crime or Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

"You could say that anything that makes you feel better," Bock says, "whether chocolate or sex or invigorating exercise or a relaxing evening (depending on one's condition or circumstances), is good for you and could be viewed as medicine. Indeed, most Americans use the term 'good medicine' metaphorically and sometimes almost literally to describe some function or activity that promotes a sense of well-being" (131).

Certainly, crack addicts would maintain that they "feel better" when they have plenty of their drug of choice, just as alcoholics or any other substance abuser; with marijuana though, it remains unclear just how long the federal government can hold out against this growing social shift in how this seemingly benign drug is viewed by most Americans today, many of whom may have experimented with it when they were younger, or indeed, who continue to use it on a regular basis in their adult lives. In this regard, Earleywine emphasizes that, "Marijuana's possible medical application has continued to increase its popularity, even with individuals who would frown upon recreational use" (3).

If fact, since 1996, nine states have legalized marijuana for medical use; this figure was expected to rise in the years to come given the overwhelming support for medical marijuana among American voters and drug policy reform leaders' continuing focus on state ballot initiatives (Kreit 1788); however, the recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court combined with systemic problems in changing drug laws through legislatures, particularly at the federal level, had introduced a setback proponents had not expected. Under federal law, marijuana continues to be listed as a Schedule I drug, meaning that it is not accepted as a medical treatment; however, several states subsequently passed laws saying that marijuana does have medical uses. In this regard, medical marijuana advocates argue that it can ease chronic pain that other drugs cannot and that it can lessen nausea caused by AIDS and powerful cancer-fighting drugs (Lauerman 295). According to Herman (2002), Congress grouped marijuana, together with LSD and heroine, in Schedule I in the Act and marijuana remains in Schedule I today. "Organizations such as the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws ('NORML') and the Alliance for Cannabis Therapeutics ('ACT')," she says, "have been trying to reschedule marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II for many years. However, their efforts have repeatedly failed at both the legislative and administrative levels" (121). Proponents of rescheduling maintain that failure to reschedule marijuana is unsupportable and irrational when substances such as morphine and cocaine remain classified as Schedule II substances, particularly in view of the growing medical knowledge of greater risks associated with the latter substances (Herman 122).

Following passage of the 1996 medical marijuana law in California, a number of marijuana cooperatives were established that provided the drug to patients; following the May 1996 Supreme Court decision, federal law enforcement officials closed down many of the cooperatives operating in California and seized plants from growers who provided the cooperatives with marijuana. Advocates of legalizing medical marijuana in California reported that they would attempt to change federal law and would seek other venues by which to distribute marijuana, perhaps by relying on state officials, an effort that was ultimately doomed to failure (see further discussion in "Future Trends" below) (Lauerman 295).

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling on May 14, 2001, that upheld an injunction against an Oakland, California, marijuana cooperative that provided medical marijuana to sick patients. In the case, United States v. Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative, the U.S. Supreme Court held that they found no medical exception to the Controlled Substances Act's prohibitions on the manufacture and distribution of marijuana. According to Herman (2002), "Justice Thomas reasoned that because Congress unambiguously designated marijuana as a Schedule I substance within the CSA, it had determined that there was no current 'accepted medical use' or medical benefit of marijuana to warrant an exception granted to other drugs under the Act" (121). As a result, based on what Justice Thomas considered to be the "apparently absolute language" of the CSA, the Court rejected the assertion of the Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative that a medical necessity defense existed under the common law and therefore a medical necessity exception should be read into the Act. Herman adds that the Court also held that while lower federal courts enjoyed a certain amount of "sound discretion" in these issues, this discretion did not allow federal courts to ignore Congress's judgment expressed within legislation (Herman 122). The decision in United States v. Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative was not even close (8 to 10), and meant that federal law overruled a 1996 California law legalizing the use of marijuana for people with certain categories of illnesses. As a result, the decision meant that the distribution of marijuana by a cooperative was illegal, even in the State of California (Lauerman 295). As noted above, more recently in June 2005, the Supreme Court has confirmed this view in Gonzales v. Raich, and the prospects currently appear dim for medical marijuana proponents for anything to change in the near future.

The California initiative, though, was firmly founded on the basis of individual civil liberties as they relate to the ability of an individual to choose for him- or herself the best course of medical treatment among those available. The process in California was started by Dennis Peron in late 1995, a longtime civil libertarian who was responsible for the passage of Proposition P, an advisory initiative endorsing the medical use of marijuana, on the San Francisco ballot in 1991; at that time, the measure passed with a 79.3% majority (Bock 14). After the second piece of medical marijuana legislation in 2 years had been defeated by the California legislature, though, Peron and like-minded activists determined that the most appropriate approach to ensuring their continued ability to use medical marijuana was to use California's initiative process, a tactic that avoided a potential veto by the governor. A number of legal and medical authorities participated in the initiative process, with an emphasis on the specific patient rights involved.

Some people think we just sat around the table one night and came up with it," Peron said, but noted "It was considerably more complicated than that" (quoted in Bock 14). The California initiative was crafted by a multidisciplinary task force that took into account both public opinion as well how best to phrase the legislation so as to maximize its chances of passage; however, Bock suggests that the lack of a political sponsor besides state Senator Milton Marks doomed the measure from the outset, but the approach was legitimate: "We worked very hard to write not only something that would protect patients' rights but something that would have a chance to win," Rosen reported. "I'm glad it was written mostly by patients and patients' advocates rather than the professional politicians. There was a lot of experience with patients in that room" (emphasis added) (quoted in Bock 15). Clearly, there are some compelling arguments in favor of legalized marijuana for medical use, but it is becoming painfully obvious that the federal government perceives such initiatives as a potential breach in the already leaky levee that is holding back growing public opinion favoring its decriminalization for personal use across the board, as well as for medicinal use.

Yet, the debate over the rights of the several states compared to the federal government also have a lengthy and contentious history, and the federal government has won in virtually every instance by virtue of the Commerce Clause that has extended its growing power into every personal nook and cranny no matter what the Founding Fathers may have intended to the contrary. This "judicial federalism" has helped to consolidate more and more power in the hands of the federal government, particularly when it comes to their ability to regulate medical marijuana (Solimine & Walker 134). Other countries, such as The Netherlands and more recently Canada, though, have decriminalized personal marijuana and other drug use across the board without the dire social consequences predicted by some American authorities; in fact, in many cases, the incidence of diseases related to such drug use have decreased, together with the crime rates that helped to support its practice (Kay 2133).


The research showed that the controlling federal drug statute in the United States today is the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970 which prohibits the manufacture and distribution of various drugs. The research also showed that there is a growing call for the amendment of the CSA to allow for the use of medical marijuana. In this regard, an old adage suggests that in the United States, someone else's right end where "your nose begins"; in the case of the federal government's stance on medical marijuana use by terminally ill patients, though, patients simply do not have any rights at all except in exceedingly rare circumstances that most people would not be willing to endure or…

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