THEY MAY NOT be doctors, but they play them in the halls of Congress, and according to the U.S. Supreme Court our 535 federal legislators know what's best for us. In an 8-0 decision, the justices ruled that Congress has the last word on whether or not marijuana has any medicinal value—and currently our legislators say it has none.
In addition, at least as far as federal law is concerned, the justices ruled that no one using marijuana for therapeutic purposes could mount a "medical necessity defense."
But, explains UW law professor Peter Nicolas, "Everyone is subject to two levels of law—they're subject to state law and they're subject to federal law." He continues, " Nothing in this decision prevents a state from creating a medical necessity defense to its own state law."
Rob Killian, the Seattle doctor who spearheaded Washington's medical marijuana initiative that voters passed in 1998, says the decision, while disappointing, "was not unexpected." He does not, however, expect to see an increase in medical marijuana prosecutions locally as a result of the Supreme Court's decision.
King County Prosecutor's Office spokesman Dan Donohoe says the county has not had a medical marijuana case since the initiative passed.
Most of the people involved in the medical marijuana movement agree that the lack of an organized distribution system in Washington makes federal action unlikely. "There's no buyers' clubs up here" for federal officials to target, says Dale Rogers, director of Lifevine Clinical Resources. "There's only a network of patients."
State Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle) doesn't foresee any significant effects here either. "I doubt that the federal government is going to have its DEA agents going out to find gravely ill people to arrest." She says the ruling highlights the need for Congress to rethink its ban on medical marijuana. But, she adds, "I think it's pretty clear that's not going to happen at the moment, unless outrage develops among the American people who are concerned that their very ill family members, friends, and relatives are going to be jeopardized."