Supreme Court Allows Prosecution of Medical Marijuana
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The U.S. Supreme Court Monday ruled doctors can be
blocked from prescribing marijuana for patients suffering from pain
caused by cancer or other serious illnesses.
In a 6-3 vote, the justices ruled the Bush administration can block the
backyard cultivation of pot for personal use, because such use has
broader social and financial implications.
"Congress' power to regulate purely activities that are part of an
economic 'class of activities' that have a substantial effect on
interstate commerce is firmly established," wrote Justice John Paul
Stevens for the majority.
Justices O'Connor, Rehnquist and Thomas dissented. The case took an
unusually long time to be resolved, with oral arguments held in
The decision means that federal anti-drug laws trump state laws that
allow the use of medical marijuana, said CNN Senior Legal Analyst
Jeffrey Toobin. Ten states have such laws.
"If medical marijuana advocates want to get their views successfully
presented, they have to go to Congress; they can't go to the states,
because it's really the federal government that's in charge here,"
At issue was the power of federal government to override state laws on use of "patient pot."
The Controlled Substances Act prevents the cultivation and possession
of marijuana, even by people who claim personal "medicinal" use. The
government argues its overall anti-drug campaign would be undermined by
even limited patient exceptions.
The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) began raids in 2001 against patients
using the drug and their caregivers in California, one of 11 states
that legalized the use of marijuana for patients under a doctor's care.
Among those arrested was Angel Raich, who has brain cancer, and Diane
Monson, who grew cannabis in her garden to help alleviate chronic back
A federal appeals court concluded use of medical marijuana was
non-commercial, and therefore not subject to congressional oversight of
But lawyers for the U.S. Justice Department argued to the Supreme Court
that homegrown marijuana represented interstate commerce, because the
garden patch weed would affect "overall production" of the weed, much
of it imported across American borders by well-financed, often violent
Lawyers for the patient countered with the claim that the marijuana was
neither bought nor sold. After California's referendum passed in 1996,
"cannabis clubs" sprung up across the state to provide marijuana to
patients. They were eventually shut down by the state's attorney
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2001 that anyone distributing medical
marijuana could be prosecuted, despite claims their activity was a
The current case considered by the justices dealt with the broader
issue of whether marijuana users could be subject to prosecution.
Along with California, nine states have passed laws permitting
marijuana use by patients with a doctor's approval: Alaska, Colorado,
Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington. Arizona
also has a similar law, but no formal program in place to administer
California's Compassionate Use Act permits patients with a doctor's
approval to grow, smoke or acquire the drug for "medical needs."
Users include television host Montel Williams, who uses it to ease pain from multiple sclerosis.
Anti-drug activists say Monday's ruling could encourage abuse of drugs deemed by the government to be narcotics.
"It's a handful of people who want to see not just marijuana, but all
drugs legalized," said Calvina Fay of the Drug Free America Foundation.
In its hard-line stance in opposition to medical marijuana, the federal
government invoked a larger issue. "The trafficking of drugs finances
the work of terror, sustaining terrorists," said President Bush in
December 2001. Tough enforcement, the government told the justices, "is
central to combating illegal drug possession."
Marijuana users, in their defense, argued, "Since September 11, 2001,
Defendants [DEA] have terrorized more than 35 Californians because of
medical cannabis." In that state, the issue has become a hot political
issue this election year.