Meanwhile, the Court will hear arguments today in , a medical-marijuana case that started right here in the Bay Area. In 2002 Angel Raich of Oakland, who suffers from an inoperable brain tumor (among other ailments), sued U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and DEA director Asa Hutchinson, arguing that the federal Controlled Substances Act created restrictions that would likely kill her. Raich had tried no fewer than 35 legal options to reduce her pain and found that only marijuana, in one form or another once every two hours, allowed her to regain the ability to live with any amount of comfort. She was seeking an injunction against the federal government in case it was planning on raiding her house for pot plants, as it had with her co-plaintiff, Diane Monson of Butte County. The feds, after a three-hour standoff, took Monson's six plants.

Raich first lost in federal district court, but the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the lower-court's decision, finding that since Raich was growing her pot for personal, noncommercial medical use and that she wasn't planning on making a business of it, her use of it for medical purposes was allowable. (The Ninth Circuit used a novel precedent for its noncommercial exception, U.S. v. McCoy, a case in which a woman successfully argued that the sexually suggestive photos she took of herself and her young daughter was a legally acceptable -- i.e., not federally prosecutable -- form of child pornography.)

The Bush administration, buoyed by its success in getting the Court to reject medical necessity as a defense against the Controlled Substance Act in U.S. v. Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative (2001), challenged the Ninth Circuit's decision here as well (the Ninth upheld medical necessity as a viable exception to the CSA).

Ashcroft and Co. may be in luck: Bloomberg reports that the justices peppered attorneys for Raich and Monson with challenges to their arguments. But, you know, that's what justices are supposed to do. The Court has until next July (the end of the current term) to render its decision.

Ashcroft v. Raich