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Supreme Court Bars Marijuana Distribution For Medical Purposes

Aired May 14, 2001 - 10:33   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LEON HARRIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Let's check in now with our Jeanne Meserve, who's standing by in Washington with word on some activity at the Supreme Court -- Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, a ruling today from the court revolving around the medicinal use of marijuana. The case, entitled U.S. vs. the Oakland Cannabis Cooperative and Jeffrey Jones.

In a unanimous ruling, the court has come down on the side of the federal government, saying that federal law classifies marijuana as illegal, no exceptions.

Charles Bierbauer is at the court. He joins us with more -- Charles?

CHARLES BIERBAUER, CNN SR. WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Jeanne, it was a rather succinct ruling written by Justice Clarence Thomas who cited the Controlled Substances Act which, as Justice Thomas in his opinion says prohibits the manufacture and distribution of various drugs, including marijuana. In this case, the court was asked to decide if there was a medical necessity exception to these prohibitions, medical necessity meaning people who were deriving some sort of relief by use of marijuana.

The court held that there is no such exception. Here's how this matter came before the Supreme Court.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over): In 1996, California voters passed The Compassionate Use Act, creating a medical marijuana provision for such diseases as cancer, AIDS, glaucoma. The Oakland Cannabis Buyers Cooperative began serving patients who had a doctor's approval.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have them fill out some paperwork, pay their membership fee and then issue a plastic photo I.D. badge to them that's counterfeit-proof.

BIERBAUER: But California's permissive law clashes with a federal prohibition. Marijuana is in the most restrictive category, under the Controlled Substances Act.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have national standards on what should be available in pharmacies with a doctor's prescription and where they're clinically safe and effective, even when they're extremely dangerous.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The patient must have no other legal alternative to cannabis because all other reasonable alternatives have been tried and found, you know, ineffective or result in intolerable side effects.

BIERBAUER: Dr. Mike Alcalay is both the co-op's medical director and a client. He has AIDS.

DR. MIKE ALCALAY, AIDS PATIENT: I don't like to get stoned. I just use it for the effect it has to keep my appetite up and to keep the pills down.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BIERBAUER: Now, what the court is saying is that even though individuals may find anecdotal evidence that they feel better, the Controlled Substances Act itself makes no provision to allow them to have this marijuana distributed to them.

It's narrowly constructed to deal with distribution by such organizations as the Oakland Cannabis Buyers Cooperative, but what it also does is it strikes down the California provision and those of any other state or entity across the country that might similarly be distributing cannabis in this form as a medical necessity. What it does say is that there is only one exception and that would be for government approved research -- Jeanne.

MESERVE: And Charles, a couple of other opinions from the court today. Tell us about those.

BIERBAUER: Well, there is an opinion out of Tennessee and it's a somewhat arcane matter that deals with when a court can invoke murder charges, in this case where the victim died 15 months after the murder there used to be a year and a day provision which specified that if that span of time had passed, you could not have a murder charge. Tennessee had stricken that matter from its statute and the court ruled today that Tennessee was within its rights to do so. So the year and a day provision no longer exists there -- Jeanne?

MESERVE: Charles Bierbauer at the court, thanks so much -- and Daryn, now back to you in Atlanta.

KAGAN: Jeanne, thank you very much.

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