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US Supreme Court Strikes Blow Against Use of Medical Marijuana

The U.S. Supreme Court dealt advocates of medicinal marijuana a major setback Monday. The high court ruled that federal authorities may prosecute people who smoke marijuana on advice of their doctors to ease the effects of various diseases.

By a vote of 6-3, the Supreme Court ruled that a federal law banning the drug takes precedence over laws in 10 states that legalized use of marijuana to treat illnesses.

Justice John Paul Stevens wrote the majority opinion in the case. He said it would be up to Congress to change the federal law to allow the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

Anti-drug groups, which dispute the medicinal benefits of marijuana welcomed the Supreme Court decision.

Joyce Nalepka from Maryland is with a group called Drug Free Kids-America's Challenge that seeks to prevent young people from using marijuana and other drugs.

"Not only is it not helpful medically, it is harmful to the immune system," she says. "It negatively affects every body system, from the brain and lungs to the immune system, and we are delighted that the Supreme Court ruled to clear up this issue."

The ruling is a setback for groups that advocate the medicinal uses of marijuana.

Allen St. Pierre is a spokesman for a group called NORML, which seeks to decriminalize the use of marijuana.

"Many people who need access to medical marijuana are now going to be negatively impacted by this decision," he says. "In some ways, it was not unexpected, but it is disappointing to see that the federal government here in this country could not have made the same distinction, regarding medical access to marijuana and non-medical [use], such as Canada and the Netherlands [have done]."

The ruling came in a case out of California involving two seriously ill women who said smoking marijuana helps ease chronic pain associated with a variety of illnesses. They sued the U.S. attorney general in an attempt to block raids by federal authorities searching for drugs in their homes.

California passed a medical marijuana law in 1996 that allows people suffering from various medical ailments to grow, smoke or obtain marijuana with a doctor's recommendation.

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor issued a dissenting opinion on Monday's ruling. She wrote that the Supreme Court was overreaching by making it a federal crime to grow small amounts of marijuana at home for medicinal use.

Some patients using marijuana to relieve pain say they intend to continue to use the drug, despite this latest high court ruling.