MARIJUANA LOSES IN SUPREME COURT
The U.S. Supreme Court threw compassion and the pleas of patients to the wind when it ruled by the letter of the law and against the medical use of marijuana. In its 8-0 unanimous decision on May 14, the Court found that "for the purposes of the Controlled Substances Act, marijuana has no currently accepted medical use at all." The case was the United States v. Oakland Cannabis Buyers Cooperative.
"Congress has made a determination that marijuana has no medical benefits worthy of an exception," wrote Clarence Thomas in the majority opinion that denied use of a medical necessity defense when prosecuted. He was joined by four other Justices who are held to be the more conservative members of the Court.
A minority opinion, penned by Justice John Paul Stevens and joined by Justices David Souter and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, tried to carve out a narrower ruling. They argued that medical necessity could not be used as a defense for manufacturing and distribution of marijuana but may be so employed by individual patients "for whom there is no alternative means of avoiding starvation or extraordinary suffering."
Dr. Donald Abrams, a leading researcher in the field of medical use of marijuana at the University of California San Francisco, criticized both the Court and Congress for playing doctor. He chooses to let the doctor and patient decide what is best in each individual situation.
Chuck Thomas, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, DC, said the Court ruling only applies to federal prosecutions. "A state government may still allow its residents to possess, grow, or distribute marijuana." Only about one percent of marijuana cases are prosecuted under federal law.
Texas gets hate-crimes law
Texas will include gays and lesbians among those covered by hate-crimes laws. Gov. Rick Perry signed the measure May 11, only three hours after it landed on his desk. That brought the long and contentious struggle to a quick end. It amends a law passed in 1993 and goes into effect Sept. 1.
The James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act was named after the African American man who was beaten and dragged to his death behind a pickup truck in 1998. Byrd's mother Stella was at the signing ceremony, she called it "the best Mother's Day gift that I've ever received. At least I have something good to remember from his death. It's been hard, it's been real hard to live through it."
The measure was strongly opposed by social conservatives, primarily because it extends protection to homosexuals. Two years ago, then Gov. George W. Bush reportedly worked behind the scenes to make sure that it remained bottled up in the legislature so that he would not have to face the question of signing or vetoing it while he was running for president.
Perry, then lieutenant governor, had played a leading role in that process. But this year, as political momentum increasingly swung behind the bill, he lobbied state senators to allow the bill to come to a vote, though he did not come out in favor of it.
Democrats unanimously supported the legislation. Ten Republicans voted for it in the House, padding the 87-60 margin of victory, while five state senators helped to assure passage by 20-10 in that chamber.
Thousands of calls and letters flooded Perry's office, nearly 3 to 1 in opposition.
Gay Pentagon consultant resigns
Openly gay Pentagon consultant Stephen Herbits is leaving his post, possibly as early as this week, the Washington Times reports. Herbits, who screens applicants for high-level Defense Department jobs, has worked for the Pentagon since Feb. 7. Officials denied his leaving has anything to do with conservative complaints about the amount of power he was wielding.
Guilty plea in Roanoke shooting
Ronald Gay, the man accused of entering a Roanoke, Va., gay bar and opening fire last fall has pled guilty to first-degree murder and six other charges, the Roanoke Times reports. Gay, 55, entered a plea with prosecutors and faces a maximum of four life terms plus 60 years. He would be eligible for parole at age 65, but he would have to be ill to receive it. One man died and six others were injured in the September shooting.
Trans widow scores win in Kansas
The Kansas Court of Appeals has ruled that a trial court erred in finding the marriage of a transgender woman and her husband invalid. J'Noel Gardiner was shut out from the estate of her husband, Marshall Gardiner, after his son challenged their marriage because J'Noel was born a man. The trial court ruled Gardiner's sex change made her marriage to Marshall invalid because same-sex marriage is illegal in Kansas.
Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, with assistance from Pamela Sumners of the ACLU of Illinois, wrote a key amicus brief in the case. The appeals court said it found the brief helpful in making its decision. In its ruling, the panel found that courts have to consider a range of factors when deciding the legal gender of a person who's had a sex-change operation. Noting the "diverse composition of today's families," the court said that biology is "no longer the sole organizing principle" of American family life.
The case was sent back to the trial court with special instructions on J'Noel's gender identity.
Md. gov. signs bias ban into law
Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening has signed into law the 2001 Anti-Discrimination Act, making his state the 12th in the nation with similar legislation. The Act will ban discrimination based on sexual orientation in housing, employment and public accommodations.
Conservatives meet with gay GOPs
Three senior GOP leaders in Congress have pledged to work with the gay community on AIDS programs and to soften their stance on gay issues, the Washington Blade reports.
Sens. Orrin Hatch ( R-Utah ) , Bill Frist ( R-Tenn. ) and Rep. Henry Hyde ( R-Ill. ) made the statements during meetings with about 50 members of the Log Cabin Republicans board and staff last week.
March marks 20th anniv. of AIDS
A march and vigil is set for early next month in Washington, D.C., to commemorate the 20th year of AIDS. The event is set for noon on June 3 and is being sponsored by June 3rd Action, a new national coalition.
See www.aidsaction20.org .
Bush UN pledge 'not enough'
AIDS activists are expressing concern that the $200 million pledged by President Bush to help fight AIDS around the world isn't enough. The AIDS Foundation of Chicago notes that the amount is 10% of what was requested from the United States. "Across the globe, 15,000 people are newly infected EACH DAY. In the face of these staggering numbers, $200 million dollars is simply not enough," AFC said in a release.
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