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Washington High Court Rejects Medical Marijuana Claim


August 1997

On July 24, the Supreme Court of Washington in an 8-1 ruling upheld the state's ban on the use of marijuana as medicine (Seeley v. State (Washington), Wash SupCt, No. 63534-0, 61 CrL 1449, (July 24, 1997)). The court rejected a plea from Ralph Seeley, a man who became a lawyer so he could argue for the reclassification of marijuana so that it may be prescribed by physicians, who argued that marijuana is the best remedy to relieve pain associated with his cancer. Seeley sought a declaratory judgement finding that the statute is unconstitutional because it infringes equal protection rights. The superior court granted his summary judgement ("State pot ban upheld," Chicago Sun-Times, July 25, 1997, s. 1, p. 18; Associated Press, "Wash. St. MJ Patient Loses in Court," July 24, 1997; NORML Press Release, "Washington State High Court Overturns Seeley Medical Marijuana Decision," July 25, 1997).

The court ruled that the government's authority to protect citizens outweighs an individual's desire for pain relief. The court reversed an October 1995 ruling by Superior Court Judge Rosanne Buckner. Writing for the majority, Judge Barbara Madsen wrote, "The evidence presented by [Seeley] is insufficient to convince this court that it should interfere with the broad judicially recognized prerogative of the Legislature."

In his lone dissent, Judge Richard Sanders wrote, "I wonder how many minutes of Seeley's agony the Legislature and/or the majority of this court would endure before seeing the light ... Words are insufficient to convey the needless suffering which the merciless state has imposed." Sanders added, "If the state cannot prohibit abortions consistent with due process, it can hardly constitutionally prohibit drug use as its interest to do so is arguably less important."