June 29, 2004
The nation’s highest court will decide whether patients in Arizona are free to possess marijuana despite a federal law to the contrary.
In a decision announced Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review a 6-month-old ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that says marijuana users in California who have a doctor’s prescription may have the drug. The justices’ move came in response to pleas by the Bush administration to overturn that ruling.
Whatever the high court decides will have significant effects in Arizona: A 1996 voter-approved law says the state’s drug possession laws do not apply to seriously or terminally ill patients who have a doctor’s prescription to use otherwise illegal substances.
Despite that law, doctors in Arizona have been unwilling to write prescriptions because officers with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration contend that they can still arrest those with marijuana and other drugs and confiscate what
they find. The Supreme Court will rule on that contention.
Jeffrey Singer, a Phoenix physician, said it is important for doctors to be able to prescribe marijuana.
Singer said while marijuana may not be the "drug of choice" for many conditions, there is "empiric evidence" that it often provides more relief — and with fewer side effects and possible addictions — than legal drugs.
That is the essence of the claim by two California women in this lawsuit.
The high court will hear the case when its new term begins in October.
Last year, the justices refused another effort by the Bush administration to review yet another 9th Circuit decision. In that case, the justices let stand a decision that the U.S. Justice Department and the DEA cannot legally pursue doctors who recommend marijuana to their patients if that is permitted under state law.