MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- This southern state, which has some of the nation's toughest drug laws, has become an unlikely ally of California on medical marijuana use.

In a legal brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard arguments Monday on California's medical marijuana law, Alabama Attorney General Troy King said states, not the federal government, should have the right to decide drug-control policies.

"I could not disagree more with the public policy that underlies the California law. I think it's flawed. I think it's bad public policy," King said. "But if somebody can go in and tell California you can't regulate drugs the way you want to regulate them in California, the next step is they could come to Alabama and tell us we can't do it.

Alabama is tough on marijuana use. Between 1995 and 2002, the state averaged almost 9,500 arrests a year for marijuana possession, the Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center reports.

A person convicted three times of possessing marijuana can end up serving as much as life in prison.

Defending states' rights

The state's attorney general's office has become a defender of states' rights when pertinent cases go before the Supreme Court. Alabama raised similar states' rights issues in October when the Supreme Court heard arguments on whether states should be able to execute killers who are 16 and 17.

King's brief was also signed by the attorneys general of Louisiana and Mississippi.

The issue before the Supreme Court is whether a California law that allows citizens to grow and possess marijuana for medical reasons should be struck down.