This morning, the US Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether medical marijuana can be given to patients even though federal law makes distributing the drug a crime.
Jeff Jones remembers watching his father die a slow, painful death from cancer. That's why when California legalized medical marijuana in 1996, he opened the Cannabis Buyers Cooperative. He is still registering members, but federal law bars him from selling pot.
"We believe that the federal policies are outdated, unjust, and are indifferent to the compassionate needs of these patients," says Jones.
The federal government took him to court, citing the Controlled Substances Act, which prohibits the sale and possession of marijuana. Today, for the first time, the same case will go before the US Supreme Court.
"Our position is, if you can do it, then we can do it if you're not going to do it," says Jones's attorney Gerald Uelman.
Jones's attorney is talking about a federal program that gave pot to patients deemed to have a medical necessity, like bone cancer survivor Irv Rosenfeld, seen here in 1996. He is one of eight people allowed to stay in the program, which was suspended in 1992, some say due to the flood of AIDS patients.
"There is no more hope period. The program was shut down and the government is hoping the eight of us to die," says Rosenfeld.
Despite the federal law, eight states have now voted to legalize medical marijuana.
"They're changing the climate and they're sending a message, and that message is that more and more people, from personal experience, are realizing this can be a helpful medication," says Uelman.
Still, unlike cocaine, which can be prescribed medicinally, the federal government puts pot in its most dangerous drug category, one that includes heroin and LSD.
The justice department argues that if the laws are changed, "drug traffickers acting under the guise of 'medical necessity' will be able to manufacture and distribute marijuana with impunity."
That's the case it will make before the court today--a conservative court, which will look at whether medical necessity can overrule federal drug bans. And only eight justices will hear the case. Justice Stephen Breyer, a liberal on the court, has excused himself because his brother is the federal district judge in California who first ordered the club to stop distributing the marijuana.
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