Supreme Court Takes On Medical Marijuana Case
Guests: Rob Kampia
Byline: Kathleen Hays, Valerie Morris, JJ Ramberg
KATHLEEN HAYS, CNNfn ANCHOR, THE FLIPSIDE: An historic move this week by the Supreme Court. The justices agreed hear a case on the legality of medical marijuana next winter. The Bush administration is appealing a case it lost involving two California women who say marijuana is the only drug that effectively treats their chronic pain.
Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Projects, joins us on THE FLIPSIDE from Washington.
Welcome to the show.
ROB KAMPIA, EXEC. DIR., MARIJUANA POLICY PROJECTS: Thank you.
HAYS: So how important is the Supreme Court decision? Explain to our viewers the significance of this.
KAMPIA: This is probably the most important decision for medical marijuana to reach the Supreme Court. If the Supreme Court rules our way, then the DEA and other federal agents will be no longer allowed to arrest medical marijuana patients in states where medical marijuana is legal, which means, essentially, that the Federal war on medical marijuana is over in those states where it's legal.
If we lose the case before the Supreme Court, it's actually not that bad for us, because then it just goes back to the old days where we have patients who are being protected under state law, but not under federal law.
JJ RAMBERG, CNNfn ANCHOR, THE FLIPSIDE: Well, what does that mean, if someone is protected under state law, but not under federal law? So I'm sitting at home with medical marijuana and maybe the state police aren't going to come in, but the Feds can come in and arrest me?
KAMPIA: That's right. In theory, right now, in the nine states where medical marijuana is legal, patients are allowed to possess, use and grown their own medical marijuana for personal use at home, legally, under state law.
RAMBERG: But they're still breaking the law.
KAMPIA: But they're breaking federal law. So the Feds can come in with DEA agents and other federal thugs and come in and arrest them under federal law.
However, there are only about 6,000 DEA agents in the entire country, so they don't have the resources or the intestinal fortitude, really, to kind of sweep up and down the state of California searching for individual cancer patients who are using a small amount of marijuana at home.
VALERIE MORRIS, CNNfn ANCHOR, THE FLIPSIDE: Rob, a quick follow on J.J.'s question. Is there, then, plans to defund the DEA agents who maybe have been set aside to follow medically used marijuana users? Is there any change there? Are they going to be freed up from that to go and really fight the battle against drug dealers, let's say, rather than someone who is ill, wanting to use marijuana as assistance?
KAMPIA: Yes, if we win the Supreme Court case, then the DEA is going to be forced to go out and fight real criminals. They'll be prohibited from going after medical marijuana patients, which means they can actually go after large-scale drug dealers, potential terrorists and other people who are actually a threat to our society.
RAMBERG: You know, let's just say marijuana is illegal. I mean everybody knows that it's illegal. And so if we start letting people sell medical marijuana or give it away, how, in fact, will we be able to keep it off the streets?
KAMPIA: Well, people who want to use marijuana are already using it. Whether you're a patient or whether you're a recreational user, it's very easy to find marijuana in our society. So by letting cancer and AIDS patients use medical marijuana that they're already using, it's not exactly going to increase the supply of marijuana on the streets. Marijuana is already ubiquitous in our society.
MORRIS: Rob, I understand that Vermont is only one of two states that have passed a law in their legislature with regard to this use and that you assisted in that effort. I think the question that a lot of people who are against this will ask is, but it's just going to be abused, again, following on the abuse trail. Can you tell me, from the states that have these laws already, what the abuses, if any, have been? Because, obviously, that's a place where we have some real numbers and some real comparison.
KAMPIA: Yes. Well, some hostile members of Congress, including Mark Souder, asked the General Accounting Office to look into it and to see whether or not there have been abuses in the states where medical marijuana is legal. And the GAO found, in their report, that, in fact, law enforcement in those states didn't find that it was creating a law enforcement problem for them to have medical marijuana patients using medical marijuana legally.
So for those members of Congress who are concerned about what's really going on in the nine states, they should just read that report.
HAYS: Rob, what about - you know, following kind of on J.J.'s point, but taking it to a different place - not that you won't be able to police marijuana users if you have medical users, but let's say I'm against drug use. I don't think anybody should use marijuana. Maybe I say it's OK for the medical use, but this is a camel's nose under the tent. The next thing we're going to get is flat-out legalization of marijuana. If I were in that camp, I would think that would be another worry you'd have to answer.
KAMPIA: Right. But at the same time, we have morphine and oxycontin that are available for medical uses. Most people who need these drugs, which are very high-powered drugs, for medical uses, don't end up diverting them to the criminal market.
HAYS: But you don't already have people sitting in parks like we just saw these kids on our screens, listening to music and putting morphine in their mouth or their veins. Right? I mean pot use is pretty well accepted. So I guess, whether you're for or against it, doesn't legalizing it for medicinal uses bring us one step closer to legalizing marijuana fully? Would you agree that marijuana should be legalized fully?
KAMPIA: Well, I'd like to turn it around and say, just because there are some bad eggs out there, like Rush Limbaugh, who are using oxycontin inappropriately, that doesn't mean that we should make oxycontin illegal for everyone, including the patients who really need it.
So I think, in our society, we have to have the compassion and the maturity to say, yes, marijuana should be available as a medicine, even if there are some people out there who are using marijuana irresponsibly. And those people who are using it irresponsibly can still be arrested in California and the other states where medical marijuana is legal.
MORRIS: Rob, let's look internationally, because this is no new idea for other countries. Other countries have, in fact, laws on the books, so what, basically, is the hang-up for the United States compared to what is happening in other parts of the world?
KAMPIA: Well, you know, I think, ultimately, it comes down to money. The DEA and the drug czar and these other federal authorities fear that somehow, by letting some cancer patients use medical marijuana, that it's going to somehow unravel the whole war on marijuana. If the whole war on marijuana unravels, then they're out of a job.
So I think that they're really concerned about their own paychecks and keeping their agencies as big and bloated as possible.
HAYS: Well, Rob Kampia, we're going to leave it there. We'll look forward to following this case with you as it progresses to the court. Thank you very much.
KAMPIA: Thank you.
Copyright: 2004 Cable News Network