Ruling: On June 6, 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that the federal government has the power under the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution to prohibit purely intrastate cultivation and possession of marijuana authorized by state medical marijuana laws.
Background: On October 9, 2002, two seriously ill medical marijuana patients sued the federal government for violating the Fifth, Ninth, and Tenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution in its attacks on patients and providers.
Angel Raich, who suffers from life-threatening wasting syndrome, nausea, a brain tumor, endome-triosis, scoliosis, and other disorders that cause her chronic pain and seizures, uses marijuana because of her adverse reaction to most pharmaceutical drugs.
Diane Monson, a medical marijuana patient suffering from severe chronic back pain and spasms, was raided by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) on August 15, 2002. Ms. Monson has tried several pharmaceutical drugs, but none of them allow her to function normally; only medical marijuana does.
The lawsuit sought to prevent the federal government from arresting or prosecuting the plaintiffs for their medical use of marijuana. According to the complaint, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and former DEA Administrator Asa Hutchinson were overstepping their authority by seizing marijuana plants that were grown under the states medical marijuana law. The plaintiffs argued that the federal government has no constitutional jurisdiction over their activities, which are entirely noncommercial and do not cross state lines.
On March 5, 2003, the U.S. District Court denied the preliminary injunction, despite finding that "the equitable factors tip in plaintiffs favor."2
A week later, on March 12, 2003, Angel Raich and Diane Monson filed an appeal with the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The appeals court heard oral arguments on October 7, 2003. On December 16, 2003, the court issued an opinion reversing the U.S. district court decision and remanding Raich to the district court with instructions to enter a preliminary injunction, as sought by the patients and caregivers. The Ninth Circuit found that "the appellants have demonstrated a strong likelihood of success on their claim that, as applied to them, the CSA [Controlled Substances Act of 1970] is an unconstitutional exercise of Congress' Commerce Clause authority."
This decision stated that federal interference in state medical marijuana laws is unconstitutional. This was a huge victory for medical marijuana patients—and for the states that have these laws, establishing clearly that the federal Controlled Substances Act does not apply to noncommercial medical marijuana activities that do not cross state lines.
On February 26, 2004, the Ninth Circuit unanimously rejected the U.S. Department of Justices petition for an en banc review of the ruling. The Justice Department appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which on June 28, 2004, agreed to hear the case.
On June 6, 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that the federal government has the power under the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution to prohibit purely intrastate cultivation and possession of marijuana authorized by state medical marijuana laws. Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Clarence Thomas and Chief Justice William Rehnquist argued in dissent that prohibiting this activity is beyond the scope of the Commerce Clause. This ruling in no way invalidates existing state medical marijuana laws, nor does it prevent states from enacting medical marijuana laws. It merely upholds the status quo: that federal authorities can continue to arrest medical marijuana users.
Despite this legal defeat at the Supreme Court, the case remains alive. The Supreme Court remanded the case to the Ninth Circuit for further proceedings to determine whether an injunction is warranted based on Due Process or medical necessity claims. The Ninth Circuit had not addressed these claims in earlier proceedings since the Court of Appeals held that an injunction was warranted based solely on the Commerce Clause argument. On March 27, 2006, the Ninth Circuit heard oral arguments on
Taken from www.raich-v-ashcroft.com/page6.html.
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these issues. The same three-judge panel that ruled in Raich's favor on the commerce clause issue in 2003 will rule on these arguments. Diane Monson is no longer a party to the case.
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