A Medical Marijuana Victory

Ralph Seeley, journalist, lawyer, and cancer patient, has accomplished what no one else has done in a quarter century of attempts. Seeley filed a declaratory judgment action in the Pierce County Superior Court in Washington State, asking for a ruling that the State Constitution's reliance on "fundamental principles" requires that marijuana be available as a prescription substance. On the morning of October 13, the Honorable Rosanne Buckner, Judge of the Superior Court for Pierce County, agreed.

Marijuana is currently classified in "schedule I" of the Controlled Substances Act, meaning that it cannot be prescribed, and that even research into its medical uses is prohibited, without first navigating a complex bureaucracy determined to prevent such research from taking place. (See A Gentle Voice of Dissent.) Schedule II drugs, such as opium and cocaine, may be prescribed by doctors in appropriate cases. So may Marinol, the pharmaceutical version of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. But Marinol must be swallowed, (a difficult if not impossible task for a person suffering from the violent nausea brought on by chemotherapy), and many users find it ineffective for relieving their symptoms.

Last week's ruling is the second medical marijuana victory in Washington State this fall. Recently, the Green Cross, a Bainbridge Island patient co-op that distributes marijuana to medical patients for free, was raided by a narcotics task force, and charges were filed against volunteers Joanna McKee, Ronald "Stitch" Miller and John Devin. Last month the charges were dismissed, because the search was found to be illegal. McKee is planning to sue Kitsap County for return of more than $300,000 worth of marijuana that was seized. Last July, McKee risked violating a Judge's orders, in order to attend the National Institute on Drug Abuse's National Conference on Marijuana Use, to participate in the reformers' protest and meet with NIDA Director Alan Leshner. (See Dissent.) McKee, a wheelchair-bound patient herself, spent three days in jail as a result.

Judge Buckner's ruling is not likely to make an immediate practical difference for medical users in Washington State. A previous case, State vs. Diana, established a medical necessity defense for marijuana possession, for patients with medical need. (though growing one's own marijuana, even a single plant, is still considered manufacture, and prosecutions do take place). Buckner's ruling goes beyond medical necessity, recognizing legitimacy, in Pierce County. If the State chooses to appeal the ruling, it will go to the State Supreme Court; a positive ruling there could in theory lead to a challenge at the federal level. Federal law still prohibits marijuana use for any reason, including medical.

Seeley's argument contained numerous references to his own experiences as a cancer patient, forced to choose between breaking the law and enduring unendurable suffering. He also cited the "catch-22" of the federal government claiming lack of evidence as a justification for the medical ban, while simultaneously preventing such research from taking place; this, he contended, violates a clause of Washington's Constitution that calls for "a frequent recurrence to fundamental principles."

(Internet users can read Seeley's brief in full on Carl Olsen's WWW site, at http://calyx.com/~olsen/MEDICAL/seeley.html. Carl's site also includes the full text of DEA Administrative Law Judge Francis Young's 1988 ruling in favor of medical marijuana, and will soon also include Judge Buckner's ruling.)

From The Activist Guide, Issue #7, October '95, DRCNet Publications section, A Guided Tour of the War on Drugs home page.

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