Pro pot organization reports on Supreme Court ruling, plus links to ruling.
On June 6, 2005,
the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6 to 3 that the federal government can continue arresting patients who use medical marijuana
legally under their state laws. However, the court did not overturn state medical marijuana laws or in any way interfere with
their continued operation.
At issue in Gonzales
v. Raich was whether the federal government has the constitutional authority to arrest and prosecute patients
who are using medical marijuana in compliance with state laws.
In its ruling, the Supreme Court indicated that Congress—not
the Court—must be the institution to change federal law to protect medical marijuana patients from arrest.
What the court has done is continue the status quo: Patients
in the 10 states with medical marijuana laws are protected under state law but will continue to risk prosecution under federal
law. In other words, the court's decision means that nothing has changed.
But it also means that—since it's now clear that patients
cannot count on the federal courts for protection—the ball is now firmly in Congress' court, which means that we must
push harder than ever for Congress to change federal law.
Gonzales v. Raich Does Not Affect States' Ability to Pass Medical Marijuana Laws
Gonzales v. Raich does not affect states' ability to pass medical marijuana law—and it does not overturn
the laws now protecting the right of 57 million Americans living in Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana,
Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington to use medical marijuana legally under state laws.
The issue in the Raich
case was whether the federal government has the power, under the Commerce
Clause of the U.S. Constitution, to arrest, make seizures, and prosecute individuals for purely intrastate activities related
to the use of marijuana in accordance with state law. The question of whether a state may make the possession of marijuana
legal for medical purposes was not at issue. Under fundamental doctrines of federalism, it is and will continue to be completely
within the power of a state to enact laws immunizing medical marijuana patients and their providers from arrest, seizure,
and prosecution by state and local officials.
The decision simply confirms what has always been true about
state medical marijuana provisions: that the federal government has the
authority—but not the obligation—under federal law to arrest, prosecute, and seize marijuana from medical marijuana
patients and providers even when they are acting in compliance with state law. This
does not, however, affect the states' authority to enact and carry out medical marijuana laws; it just means that
patients and providers following these laws could be arrested and prosecuted
and have their marijuana seized by federal law enforcement officials. And not only does
the case not affect state laws, but state laws will need to be passed regardless of the outcome of the case.
It also is important to note that this case was initiated
by medical marijuana patients and caregivers in California who sought an injunction preventing the federal government from arresting them and seizing their property.
The federal government has not challenged the validity or constitutionality of the state medical marijuana laws.
In sum, medical marijuana advocates are no worse off than
before the litigation was launched—medical marijuana is legal under certain state laws but not under federal law.
Background on Gonzales
The U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Gonzales v. Raich (formerly known as Ashcroft v. Raich)—that
the federal government can continue arresting patients who use medical marijuana legally under their state laws—stems
from a case it heard in December 2004. At issue was whether the federal government has the constitutional authority to prohibit
patients in medical marijuana states from using and/or growing marijuana that is not commercial in nature and which therefore
does not involve interstate commerce.
The case was first launched in October 2002, when two medical
marijuana patients—Angel Raich and Diane Monson—and two caregivers filed a motion asking a federal court to forbid
the DEA from arresting them under federal law. They argued that their home use and cultivation of medical marijuana, which
are legal under California state law, aren't commercial in nature and do not involve interstate commerce—and so therefore the federal government
does not have the constitutional authority to prohibit what they're doing.
The U.S. district court in northern California ruled against Raich in March 2003,
but then the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed and ruled in favor of Raich in December 2003, shocking the nation.
As a result of the Ninth Circuit ruling, Raich, Monson, and patients in similar circumstances were legally allowed to use
medical marijuana under both state and federal law in Alaska, California, Hawaii, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington
(seven of the 10 medical marijuana states) until the date of the Supreme Court's ruling.
The Bush administration appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme
Court, arguing that the two patients and their caregivers -- who are growing and using medical marijuana within California, using California seeds, California soil, California water, and California equipment – are somehow engaged
in "interstate commerce." The administration also argued that Congress has found no accepted medical use of marijuana and
that state medical marijuana protections detract from the fight against drug trafficking.
On June 6, 2005, the Supreme Court ruled 6 to 3 that the federal government
can continue arresting patients who use medical marijuana legally under their state laws. However, the court did not overturn
state medical marijuana laws or in any way interfere with their continued operation.
Justice O'Connor wrote the principal dissent, joined by Chief
Justice Rehnquist and Justice Thomas. Justice Thomas wrote a separate dissent. In her dissent, Justice O'Connor said that
states should be allowed to set their own rules. "The states' core police powers have always included authority to define
criminal law and to protect the health, safety, and welfare of their citizens," said O'Connor, who added that -- while she
would have opposed California's medical marijuana law if she were a voter or a legislator -- the court should respect the
states' "own conclusions about the difficult and sensitive question of whether marijuana should be available to relieve pain
"Diane Monson and Angel Raich use marijuana that has never
been bought or sold, that has never crossed state lines, and that has no demonstrable effect on the national market for marijuana,"
Justice Thomas wrote in his separate dissent. "If Congress can regulate this under the commerce clause, then it can regulate
virtually anything - and the federal government is no longer one of limited and enumerated powers." Thomas said the ruling
was so broad "the federal government may now regulate quilting bees, clothes drives and potluck suppers throughout the 50
Download the Supreme Court's decision here.
Download a transcript of the oral arguments during the hearing before
the Supreme Court here.
Download the brief filed by MPP and the Multidisciplinary Association
for Psychedelic Studies here.
Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi—conservative states that do not have laws protecting medical marijuana patients from arrest—filed
briefs arguing that the federal government should stay out of state business.