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Court decision won’t affect local pot rule

By John Geluardi Daily Planet staff
Tuesday May 15, 2001

The U.S. Supreme Court dealt medical marijuana users a blow Monday with a unanimous decision that a medical necessity defense can not be used against federal marijuana charges. 

The ruling should have little effect locally, as medical marijuana activists vowed to continue dispensing the drug, and city officials said they will not change their enforcement. 

Lt. Russell Lopes of the Berkeley Police Department verified that the decision will not effect current police policy toward medical marijuana users.  

“To us this is all just conversation,” he said. “As far as we’re concerned nothing changes.” 

The decision was a result of the United States vs. the Oakland Cannabis Buyers Cooperative, which was instigated in 1998 when the cooperative refused to stop dispensing medical marijuana under federal orders. The cooperative fought the injunction using a medical necessity defense.  

The cooperative has since stopped operating and the founder, Jeff Jones, said it is uncertain if it will ever reopen. 

California, along with several other states including Oregon, Arizona and Hawaii, have adopted laws allowing the use of marijuana as treatment for a variety of illnesses including cancer, AIDS, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis and migraine headaches. The state laws have been  

adopted despite the fact that marijuana remains illegal under federal law, which takes precedent.  

Since the passage of the California Compassionate Use Act of 1996, also known as Proposition 215, many counties and cities have adopted policies or ordinances allowing marijuana use for medical purposes. Berkeley adopted a Medical Marijuana Ordinance in March. The city also recently took steps to amend the Zoning Ordinance to provide guidelines for issuing permits and standards for medical marijuana cooperatives and collectives that distribute the drug. 

Currently city officials estimate there are five such cooperatives operating in Berkeley. 

Monday’s 8-0 Supreme Court decision that using marijuana for medical purposes is not an option under the federal Controlled Substances Act has caused uncertainty among patients who say they rely on marijuana to ease symptoms like lack of appetite, soreness of joints and involuntary muscle spasms. 

Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for the majority, said “In the case of the Controlled Substances Act, the statute reflects a determination that marijuana has no medical benefits worthy of an exception (outside the confines of a government-approved research project).” 

It was also noted in the written decision that the act allows no legal use of marijuana. 

Justice Stephen Breyer, did not participate in the decision because his brother, a federal judge, ruled on the case in a lower court. 

Berkeley City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque said the ruling will not effect the newly adopted Medical Marijuana Ordinance. She said the same federal laws applied when the ordinance was adopted.  

“It has always been a problem in California that federal law prohibits the distribution cultivation and use of marijuana,” she said. 

Robert Rach, attorney for the Oakland Cannabis Buyers Cooperative, said the ruling is just the beginning of a long battle over medical marijuana.  

“There are a number of Constitutional issues the Supreme Court has not yet considered,” he said. “One is states’ rights under the Ninth and 10th amendments and another is that under the Commerce Clause, every American has the right to be free from pain.” 

Don Duncan, co-director of the Berkeley Patients Group, a marijuana cooperative that has dispensed medical marijuana for over a year, said they will continue to operate despite the Supreme Court decision.  

“The most important thing is to take care of the patients, not politicians,” he said.