Federal Medical Marijuana Case Regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act

On May 21st of 2012 a three judge panel from the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled upon the case of James v. Costa Mesa. The case argued that the Americans with Disabilities Act protected disabled patients’ rights to use medical marijuana. The ADA was enacted by the U.S. Congress in 1990, then following President George H. W. Bush signed it into law on July 26, 1990. At that moment it was said to be the cornerstone piece of Civil Rights legislation of our times. It contained wide sweeping powers that were left open and meant to have broadening strength as it evolved to protect the disabled citizens of America. The three judge panel has now ruled with two judges ruling against the patients and one judge dissenting in favor of patient’s rights.

Judge Raymond Fischer, a Clinton appointee, wrote the opinion on the case ruling. Stating “We recognize that the plaintiffs are gravely ill, and that their request for ADA relief implicates not only their right to live comfortably, but also their basic human dignity. We also acknowledge that California has embraced marijuana as an effective treatment for individuals like the plaintiffs who face debilitating pain.” Further stating “We recognize that the federal government’s views on the wisdom of restricting medical marijuana use may be evolving. But for now Congress has determined that, for purposes of federal law, marijuana is unacceptable for medical use.”

Judge Marsha Berzon, also a Clinton appointee, wrote the dissenting part of the opinion siding more with the plaintiffs. She stated, “The statutory interpretation issue at the core of this case is an unusually tough one, as the majority opinion recognizes. Looking at the language of 12210(d)(1) alone, I would come out where the majority does—concluding that the statute is ambiguous. But unlike the majority, I would not declare a near-draw. Instead, looking at the words alone, I would conclude that the plaintiffs have much the better reading, but not by enough to be comfortable that their interpretation is surely correct. Turning then to the legislative history, I would again declare the plaintiffs the winner, this time sufficiently, when combined with the language considerations, to adopt their interpretation, absent some very good reason otherwise … I therefore respectfully dissent.”

Speaking as the attorney for the patients, Matthew Pappas was quoted as saying that, “the work towards equal treatment of seriously ill and disabled people that use medical cannabis by the legal recommendation from a doctor will not be overcome in miles but as are all civil right issues by inches. We are pleased that the majority recognizes the plight of these seriously ill and disabled Americans. We also appreciate that the majority brought up basic human dignity, because it was not looked at. Dignity is not arresting the seriously ill, dignity is not persecuting dispensaries that operate within the law. What the cities are doing is not dignified it is discriminatory and that is why this is such an important civil rights issue. The dissenting opinion by Judge Berzon is a gigantic stride in our effort to remove prejudice out of disabled peoples lives and for those persons to be able access the medication that works for them. The reason that the ADA was written so broadly was exactly for this type of circumstance. This is such an important issue for millions of people and given by the statement that this is a near draw warrants a petition for rehearing en banc before the 9th Circuit, instead of weighing on a federal drug law that is over forty years old.”

via : sacbee

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