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Supreme Court Outlaws Medical Marijuana


In an 8-0 decision, the Supreme Court on May 14 ruled that federal drug laws provide no exceptions allowing the use of marijuana for medical purposes. The ruling allows the Justice Department to proceed with efforts to shut down "cannabis cooperatives" that provide marijuana to individuals suffering from terminal or chronic illnesses.

Eight states have laws allowing the use of marijuana for medical purposes -- California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, Alaska, and Maine. The Supreme Court ruling came in a case involving a California seller, U.S. v. Oakland Cannabis Buyers Cooperative. California voters made such cooperatives legal under state law in a referendum passed in 1996. The Supreme Court ruled that the state law did not preclude continued enforcement under federal law, which makes marijuana illegal.

Supporters of medical marijuana say it relieves suffering, often when there are few alternatives. Opponents dispute that, saying that alternatives are available and that the medical marijuana movement is a first line of attack for proponents of drug legalization more generally.

The Supreme Court ruling contrasted sharply with a recent decision by the Canadian government on April 6 to formalize an existing policy allowing the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

-- 5/14/01

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