Court Rules Medical Marijuana Not ADA-Protected

A three-judge panel of the normally liberal-leaning US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco has ruled 2-1 that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not protect the rights of disabled patients to use medical marijuana, even when prescribed by a doctor.

Easing the Blow: In the court’s majority ruling, Judge Raymond Fischer, appointed by President Clinton, stated, “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.”

Delivering the Blow: But then came the bad news for medical marijuana users, as Judge Fischer continued, “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. We therefore necessarily conclude that the plaintiffs’ medical marijuana use is not protected by the ADA.”

The case, James v. City of Costa Mesa, grew out of a lawsuit filed against the cities of Costa Mesa and Lake Forest, California, by four plaintiffs referred to in the appeals court’s decision as “severely disabled California residents.”

The possession, sale and cultivation of medical marijuana was legalized in California by the passage of a state ballot initiative in 1996. However, a 2004 amendment to the law gave California cities and counties wider authority to regulate the sale of medical marijuana within their borders. Since then several California cities, including Costa Mesa and Lake Forest have adopted ordinances that greatly restrict the sale of medical marijuana or ban it completely.

In defiance of a local ban imposed in 2005, a few marijuana clinics opened in Costa Mesa, but have been subject to police raids and escalating public pressure demanding their closure.

The plaintiffs filed their lawsuit claiming ADA protection out of a concern that they could ultimately lose their sources of medical marijuana.

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