IN THE NEWS #481 - Supreme Court Rejects Medical Marijuana

By Cynthia Kirk

This is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program IN THE NEWS.

This week, the United States Supreme Court banned the sales of the illegal drug, marijuana, for medical purposes. The court ruled eight to zero that federal law makes it illegal to sell marijuana for any reason.

The case involved the Oakland Cannabis Buyer's Cooperative. It is one of thirty-nine groups in California that provide marijuana to sick and dying people. The cooperative provides marijuana to patients whose doctors say they need it to ease the pain and physical effects of cancer, AIDS and other diseases. The group was created after California voters approved a measure that permitted people with a medical need to receive the illegal drug. The ruling by the Supreme Court is expected to immediately close the medical marijuana cooperative.

California voters made the state the first in the nation to permit the use of medical marijuana. They approved a change in state law in Nineteen-Ninety-Six. Voters in Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, and five other states took similar action. Several other states are considering medical marijuana laws.

The state laws do not make marijuana legal or change the criminal for possessing, growing or selling marijuana. Instead, they permit very sick patients to use the drug without criminal penalties.

The Clinton administration moved to close down the Oakland California cooperative in Nineteen-Ninety-Eight. They said that the group's actions violated the Controlled Substances Act. A federal judge agreed. He said that federal law replaces state law when the two conflict. He said that the federal government was well within its rights to close the cooperative.

Then a federal appeals court changed that decision. It ruled that the cooperative could continue providing marijuana to those who could prove it was a medical necessity.

The Clinton administration appealed to the Supreme Court. They argued that the appeals court ruling could weaken federal drug laws. The Supreme Court ordered the cooperative to remain closed until it could decide the case.

In its decision this week, the Supreme Court ruled that there is no acceptable medical use of marijuana in any situation. But three of the justices said the court majority went too far on this issue. They said the ruling should not prevent a person with a life-threatening disease from using the drug to avoid further suffering. They also said the ruling could cause tension between the federal government and states that have passed medical marijuana laws.

Supporters of medical marijuana say the drug provides effective relief for cancer patients and people with AIDS. They say people should not suffer unnecessarily when other treatments fail.

But opponents say there are many legal drugs that contain the same chemical in marijuana. They say the real goal of the medical marijuana movement is to make the drug legal for non-medical use.

This VOA Special English program IN THE NEWS, was written by Cynthia Kirk. This is Steve Ember.

Voice of America Special English