-- Of course she would never stop using marijuana, Angel Raich told reporters over and over again. "If I stopped," she said, "I would die."
Raich's belief that medical cannabis keeps her alive is what spurred her to fight the federal government's ban on marijuana. So on Monday, she was disappointed -- "a little in shock" -- that the Supreme Court had ruled that the government can still ban possession of marijuana even in states that have legalized its medical use. But she will press on, she said, to change federal law.
"We have a lot of fight left," she said as she was whisked away from a news conference on the steps of Oakland City Hall to her house, where a camera crew was waiting for her. She had back-to-back interviews all day, taking breaks to ingest marijuana through a pipe or vaporizer every two hours or so.
She told reporters during a morning telephone conference that she had taken medical marijuana before and during the meeting. "I don't like using it," she said, adding: "It doesn't make me high."
Instead, for Raich, 39, a mother of two teenagers who says she has been suffering from a litany of disabling ailments since she was a teenager herself, medical cannabis has worked where scores of other prescribed drugs have failed. Marijuana makes her hungry, she said, which fights a wasting syndrome that would otherwise steal her appetite. It relieves pain, she said, from progressive scoliosis, endometriosis and tumors in her uterus. Raich even believes it has something to do with arresting the growth of an inoperable brain tumor.
She is convinced that her use of medical marijuana, which began in 1997 after she had been using a wheelchair for two years, made her strong enough to stand up and learn to walk again. She said doctors could find no other explanation.
The drug that she says soothes her has also made her an activist. In 2002, with the help of her husband, Robert Raich, a lawyer she met when he was defending medical cannabis clubs in Oakland, Raich and Diane Monson of Oroville, Calif., another medical marijuana user, sued then-Attorney General John D. Ashcroft to stop federal raids on patients who use medical marijuana and their growers. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled in their favor, and the government appealed to the Supreme Court.
Monson, 47, an accountant who has a degenerative spine disorder, had her home raided by federal drug agents in 2002 because she was growing six marijuana plants on her patio. She could not be reached on Monday to comment.
Raich, who has been anxiously awaiting the high court's decision, made sure she was available. Two months ago, she said, she was told that her cervix was covered with precancerous cells. She waited until the Supreme Court decision to schedule an operation to remove the cells, she said. After that, she said, she is to undergo a hysterectomy.
She said she is trying to look on the bright side of the Supreme Court decision. The timing, she said, was perfect, just before the House is to vote on an amendment next week that would end government raids of medical marijuana patients.
She said she plans to go to Washington next week to lobby. But she also said that all this activity does nothing to help her health. On busy days, she said, "I don't get enough medicine. I'm constantly playing catch-up. It's really hard on my body, on my mental state. When the day is over and all the media is gone, I'm probably going to end up crying."
Angel Raich, shown with cannabis buds at home, says medical marijuana has worked where many other prescribed drugs have not.