Local pot case goes to Supremes

Two years ago, Oroville resident Diane Monson watched as agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration raided her home garden and ripped out six marijuana plants, the number permitted to medical patients under Butte County guidelines. In fact, Monson told the agents where the plants were because she had a doctor’s recommendation to smoke pot to relieve her chronic back spasms.

Despite pleas from Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey not to do so, the agents hacked down the plants. As they did so, Monson read the text of Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act, out loud to them.

Fast forward two years, and Monson now finds herself before the U.S. Supreme Court in one of the largest medical-marijuana cases in history. The story was front-page news early this week in all major national newspapers and warranted coverage on all national TV news programs.

Monson and Angel Raich, who uses medical marijuana to deal with multiple ailments, went to the Supreme Court Nov. 29 to defend the right to keep growing and using the plant for their debilitating illnesses.

The Supreme Court is questioning whether state medical marijuana laws are being abused by people who aren’t actually sick. Eleven states have passed medical-marijuana laws since 1996.

One year ago, Monson and Raich, who is a member of the Oakland Cannabis Club, joined forces and filed a complaint in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to keep the federal government from confiscating their marijuana. Both women use pot as recommended by their doctors, which is considered legal under California law.

The complaint argued that U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and former U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Chief Asa Hutchinson were “unconstitutionally exceeding their authority by embarking on a campaign of seizing or forfeiting privately grown intrastate medical cannabis from California patients and caregivers, arresting or prosecuting such patients, mounting paramilitary raids against patients and caregivers, harassing patients and caregivers and taking other civil or administrative actions against them.”

In December 2003 a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court ruled 2-1 in favor of the women, stating that the federal government’s actions were unconstitutional.

The federal government appealed to the Supreme Court, bringing the case to the national level.

Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey objected to the 2002 raid of Monson’s garden and phoned an appeal to the U.S. Attorney’s Office at the time of the seizure. Ramsey says the latest case will make for “fascinating legal argument.”

Ramsey said that, if the ruling goes in favor of the defendants, individual growers will be safe but the DEA will take it out on cannabis clubs.

Under the Commerce Clause, the federal government can have its hand in shutting down cannabis clubs because they are commercial in nature.

Californians passed Proposition 215, which allows sick people with a doctor’s certificate to use, grow or buy marijuana for medical conditions, in 1996. Prop. 215 does not protect cannabis clubs.

Monson and Raich are currently protected by a preliminary injunction that bars federal authorities from interfering with them or their pot supplies.

The Supreme Court is expected to rule by the end of June.