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Medicinal Mary

U.S. Supreme Court decision reawakens the debate over the medical benefits of marijuana

The U.S. Supreme Court is on a roll. Months after declaring George W. Bush to be the democratically elected president of the U.S., they have given liberal minds in that country another reason to tremble.

Ignoring the anecdotal evidence of thousand of patients, doctors and researchers – not to mention the overwhelming support of the public – on May 13 the court ruled that marijuana is not to be given to patients whose doctors prescribe cannabis. The court also ruled that the recent laws allowing medicinal use of marijuana in California – and proposed for Maine, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon and Washington – violate the black and white definitions within federal Controlled Substances Act.

One judge withdrew from the proceedings because his brother represented the government in federal court before the case – U.S. vs. Oakland Cannabis Buyers Co-operative – reached the Supreme Court. It’s safe to say that even with his participation the decision would have been unanimous.

Slightly less unanimous was a ruling over whether possession of marijuana for medical use violates the law – five out of eight justices said yes. The other three issued a separate opinion that growing and selling marijuana for medical usage was not a defence.

Barring some convincing medical proof that marijuana is effective medicine in treating various medical conditions, the Supreme Court’s decision is virtually set in stone – medical necessity is not a valid legal defence anywhere in the U.S. for growing, buying, possessing or selling marijuana.

"We need not decide, however, whether necessity can ever be a defense when the federal statute does not expressly provide for it," said Justice Clarence Thomas (yes, the same Clarence Thomas who once bragged of his sexual prowess to Anita Hill). "In this case, to resolve the question presented, we need only recognize that a medical necessity exception for marijuana is at odds with the terms of the Controlled Substances Act."

If the Controlled Substances Act were rewritten with exceptions for medical uses, then medical marijuana might be accepted south of the border. It probably won’t be – not because of the puritan influences that prompt the U.S. to do things like cut aid to countries that support or finance medical abortions, but because the studies that support medical use are a long way from coming.

Multinational pharmaceutical companies finance the lion’s share of medical research in the U.S. and around the world, and are a powerful political lobby in their own right. They look after their own financial interests, and as a result it is unlikely that the medical science or pharmaceutical industries will fund studies to support the medicinal uses of a plant that anyone can grow in the closet.

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