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US Supreme Court Hears Arguments on Medicinal Marijuana


TV news report transcript

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments Monday in a legal case with far-reaching implications for the use of marijuana for medical purposes. National correspondent Jim Malone has more on the story from Washington. Charlene Sarmiento narrates.

At the moment, 11 U.S. states allow chronically ill people to smoke marijuana to help relieve pain. Among them is California, where Angel Raich grows her own marijuana to cope with the pain from a brain tumor and other diseases. She spoke to reporters on the steps of the Supreme Court.

ANGEL RAICH
"If it was not for cannabis, I would not be here today and talking to you and fighting for my rights. And I feel very strongly that the justices should think very hard about the facts before them because if they decide that I have the right to live then I will be able to spend the rest of my life with my family. On the other hand, if they side against me, it means that they would be giving me a death sentence."

At issue in the case is whether federal anti-drug laws that prohibit the cultivation and use of marijuana should take precedence over state laws that allow it. Supporters of medical marijuana have been joined by some conservatives who argue that the federal government should not have the power to overrule state laws.

Opponents of medical marijuana, including the Bush administration, dispute the medical benefits of the drug and argue that any legalization of marijuana will complicate national efforts to fight drug addition.

Tom Goldstein is a Supreme Court Expert.

TOM GOLDSTEIN, SUPREME COURT EXPERT
"The government told the Supreme Court that they had to step in because this was a serious blow to the war on drugs. If this little crack in the door could be opened, who knows what could come next."

Three years ago, the Supreme Court dealt supporters of medical marijuana a legal setback by ruling that medical use of the drug does not exempt it from federal drug laws.

The high court is expected to issue a ruling in this case sometime before July.

Chief Justice William Rehnquist was again absent from Monday's oral arguments. He is being treated for thyroid cancer and his lengthy absence from the court is fueling speculation about a possible vacancy on the Supreme Court, something that has not happened in more than ten years.

In the event of a retirement or vacancy on the high court, President Bush would nominate a replacement who would have to be confirmed by the Senate.

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