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April 27, 2004 - Americans for Safe Access (US Web)

First Federal Prisoner Allowed Medical Marijuana Pending Appeal

Government Sought Drug Testing for Released Sonoma Patient; Judge Says "No"

NEWS RELEASE: Media Contact: William Dolphin

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

San Francisco, CA - For the first time, a federal judge just said "no" today to drug testing for a medical marijuana patient recently released from federal prison camp.

Federal prosecutors had wanted testing for marijuana as a condition of release for Keith Alden, who is awaiting appeal of his conviction under recent appellate court rulings.

But the request surprised Magistrate Judge Edward M. Chen, who had begun the proceeding saying, "In light of recent Ninth Circuit decisions, I assume we won't want drug testing."

Assistant U.S. Attorney George Bevan, Jr. nonetheless had his office ask for the tests, stating that Mr. Alden was a "chronic user of marijuana."

Judge Chen, who was clearly puzzled, said, "We have to tread very lightly" on the issue of medical marijuana, and he was not going to order anything that would "circumvent or undermine the Ninth Circuit."

In the end, Judge Chen released Mr. Alden on an unsecured bond of $100,000, with the conditions that he not possess firearms, obey all laws, and check-in with the court. Mr. Alden is free to travel and to use the marijuana recommended to him by his doctor. It is case no. CR01-0202MJJ & CR02-0236 MJJ.

"We're winning," said Hilary McQuie, campaign director for the medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access, who was at the hearing with a dozen other supporters. "Our courts have begun to recognize that marijuana is legitimate medicine and patients deserve compassion, not federal prison."

Mr. Alden is appealing his conviction for cultivating medical cannabis under the recent Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Raich vs. Ashcroft (Ninth Circuit Case No. 03-15481). Freed on April 1st, he is the first federal prisoner to be released based on the precedent.

That December 2003 ruling established that the federal government has violated the Constitution in prosecuting and arresting patients and their caregivers. The decision says that so long as patients are in compliance with their state laws, do not cross state lines and do not buy or sell the marijuana, they are not affecting interstate commerce.

Congress's ability to regulate interstate commerce is the basis for federal drug laws. The ruling applies to California and the six other states in the Ninth Circuit's jurisdiction that allow medical cannabis use: Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.

The ruling in Raich vs. Ashcroft has already had far-reaching effects. Last week a federal judge issued an injunction against future arrest and prosecution of the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana (WAMM) in Santa Cruz.

The case of a San Bernardino couple, scheduled for trial in LA in August, will be the first time federal defendants are allowed to present medical evidence. On April 20th, the government filed its petition for Supreme Court review of the Raich decision, which may be heard as early as November.

For interviews or more information, contact William Dolphin at (510) 919-1498 or

A national coalition of 10,000 patients, doctors and advocates, Americans for Safe Access is the largest organization working solely on medical marijuana.

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