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Ruling has medical marijuana users edgy


Angel Raich inhales vaporized marijuana at her home in Oakland, Calif., on Monday. Federal authorities may prosecute sick people whose doctors prescribe marijuana to ease pain, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled.
 (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Angel Raich inhales vaporized marijuana at her home in Oakland, Calif., on Monday. Federal authorities may prosecute sick people whose doctors prescribe marijuana to ease pain, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled. (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Kim Curtis Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO – Oregon stopped issuing medical marijuana cards after Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling, but people apparently still could get pot with a doctor’s prescription there and in nine other states. And nobody in law enforcement appeared eager to make headlines by arresting ailing patients.

“People shouldn’t panic. There aren’t going to be many changes,” California Attorney General Bill Lockyer said. “Nothing is different today than it was two days ago, in terms of real-world impact.”

The high court ruled 6-3 that people who smoke marijuana because their doctors recommend it to ease pain can be prosecuted for violating federal drug laws.

The ruling does not strike down medical marijuana laws in California, Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont or Washington state. State and local authorities in most of those states said they have no interest in arresting people who smoke pot for medical reasons.

It remains to be seen whether the federal Drug Enforcement Administration is planning a crackdown. The Justice Department was not commenting.

In Oregon, state officials said they would temporarily stop issuing medical marijuana cards to sick people.

“We want to proceed cautiously until we understand the ramifications of this ruling,” said Grant Higginson, a public health officer who oversees Oregon’s medical marijuana program.

Medical marijuana dispensaries have proliferated despite a 2001 Supreme Court ruling that rejected the “medical necessity” defense in marijuana cases.

Paul Armentano of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws said arrests of ailing patients have been rare, but the government has arrested more than 60 people in medical marijuana raids since September 2001.

Most of those arrests have been in California – the first state to allow medical marijuana, in 1996. On Monday, Gov. Arnold Schwarznegger, who has previously supported use of pot by sick people, said only: “It is now up to Congress to provide clarity.”

Still, the ruling makes Valerie Corral nervous. Corral operates a 150-plant pot farm in Santa Cruz County, providing marijuana for free to about 165 seriously ill members. Her farm was raided by the DEA in 2002. The high court’s decision “leaves us protecting ourselves from a government that should be protecting us,” she said.

It was “business as usual” at the San Francisco health department, spokeswoman Eileen Shields said. The county issues medical marijuana identification cards, valid for two years, to residents with a doctor’s prescription. Currently, 8,200 residents have the cards.

In Colorado, where 668 people hold certificates that let them use and grow marijuana for pain relief under a constitutional amendment voters approved in 2000, federal prosecutors will continue to focus on large drug rings, but if investigators come across marijuana in the possession of certified state users, they will seize it – just as they have always done, said Jeff Dorschner, a U.S. Attorney’s spokesman.

In Montana, the 119 residents who paid $200 to get on the state’s confidential registry won’t face state prosecution, said state Attorney General Mike McGrath. He said the state is not obligated to help federal authorities prosecute people following state law.

In Nevada, medicinal pot users are already warned that the state law offers no protections from federal prosecution, Attorney General Brian Sandoval said.

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