High Court Will Consider Law on Sale of Marijuana

WASHINGTON--The Supreme Court decided Monday to judge a law that makes it a crime to buy or sell untaxed marijuana.

Under federal law, doctors, dentists, and some other special professionals are permitted to prescribe or dispense marijuana. They register with the government and pay a special tax.

People who buy or sell unregistered marijuana are subject to prison terms ranging from 2 to 40 years.

The law has been used in the past 30 years to prosecute hundreds of people who traded illegally in the drug.

Passed by Congress to help regulate marijuana traffic, the act has been in jeopardy since a federal judge in Ohio last March ruled it carries "substantial hazards of self-incrimination" and dismissed an indictment brought against a musician.

Federal Judge Joseph P. Kinneary of Columbus dismissed charges against flutist Henry Preston Covington when the musician argued he was being subjected to possible self-incrimination.

Kinneary said people who deal in marijuana and obey the law by paying the tax are subject to having their names published in a list made available to prosecutors.

The Justice Department asked the high court for a hearing and will get one in early December. There should be a ruling by June.

Clouding the Justice Department's attempt to keep the law alive are previous court rulings that struck down on similar grounds government efforts to force registration of gamblers and possessors of certain firearms.