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Supreme Court Bars California Clinic from Marijuana Dispersal

By Rene Sanchez

The U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday barred a California clinic from distributing marijuana to patients for medicinal purposes, throwing into turmoil the state’s groundbreaking law that allows the practice.

Acting on an emergency request from the Clinton administration, the court voted seven to one to prohibit the operations of an Oakland, California, cannabis club that is at the center of a four-year legal battle between the federal and state governments.

But the court’s decision neither overturns the medicinal marijuana initiative that California voters approved in 1996 nor effectively ends distribution of the drug to patients around the state.

That main issue of Proposition 215’s legality is still before a federal appeals court. And because of the uncertain situation -- the federal government insists marijuana distribution to people with cancer, AIDS and other diseases is illegal -- local governments around California continue to allow patients either to grow marijuana on their own or use it with the blessing of health departments. A few other cannabis clubs operate with local support; others have gone underground for the time being.

The Justice Department sought the Supreme Court’s help after a federal court this summer allowed the Oakland club to keep distributing marijuana to patients with a doctor’s prescription, until the legal case is resolved.

Federal lawyers had argued that the ruling set a dangerous precedent and provided a justification for illegal drug trafficking.

Five other states have approved the use of medicinal marijuana. The issue will be on the ballot in two others, Nevada and Colorado, in November.

Advocates for using marijuana medicinally expressed concern that Tuesday’s decision signaled that the Supreme Court may eventually strike down California’s law. But for now they said it would not have significant implications for most patients around the state who are using the drug.