Supreme Court Rules Against Medical Marijuana
Justices Say Federal Government Can Prosecute in States That Have Legalized Medical Marijuana
WebMD News Archive
June 6, 2005 -- The federal government may prosecute patients who use
marijuana even in states with laws allowing medicinal use of the drug, the
Supreme Court ruled Monday.
In a 6-3 decision, justices supported the Bush administration argument that
the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) trumps state laws when it comes to
regulating controlled substances, even though some patients may suffer without
the drug. "The CSA is a valid exercise of federal power, even as applied to
the troubling facts of this case," Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the
The case, known as Ashcroft v. Raich, was one of the most closely
watched Supreme Court suits this year. A ruling against the federal government
would have had far-reaching legal implications but also would have been a major
blow to aggressive White House antimarijuana policies.
What the case won't do is settle the question of whether marijuana is an
effective medicine at all, or if so, whether voters or even state legislatures
should be allowed to take on medical treatment questions usually reserved for
The suit came after two California patients, Diane Monson and Angel Raich,
went to court to prevent federal officials from arresting them for using
marijuana under the state's 1996 law allowing medical use. A 2003 federal
appeals court ruling in the patients' favor was quickly appealed to the Supreme
Court, which heard oral arguments in the case last November.
White House Reaction
The Bush administration declared the ruling a victory Monday. White House
officials have long argued that allowing states to classify marijuana as
medicine undermines clear antidrug messages aimed at youth.
"Today's decision marks the end of medical marijuana as a political
issue," says John P. Walters, director of the White House Office of
National Drug Control Policy.
"Smoking illegal drugs may make some people 'feel better.' However,
civilized societies and modern day medical practices differentiate between
inebriation and the safe, supervised delivery of proven medicine by legitimate
doctors," Walters says, in a statement.
Supporters of medical marijuana say the decision changes little in the 10
states that already allow qualified patients to use marijuana under a doctor's
supervision. Another state, Maryland, allows defendants to use medical
necessity as a court defense.
Just 16 federal raids on medical marijuana growers have taken place since
1996, all of them on large growing operations of 500 to 1,000 plants, according
the Drug Policy Alliance, a pro-medical marijuana group.
"Legally nothing is different today than before Raich. The
million dollar question is whether the fed government is going to all the
sudden change the way it does business and start going after these individual
sick people and their caregivers," said Dan Abrahamson, the group's
director of legal affairs.
Several states, including Alabama, New Mexico, Connecticut, and Wisconsin
are considering new medical marijuana exemptions. Monday's ruling could cause
those states to think twice before going against federal drug policy backed by
a fresh Supreme Court decision upholding it.
"I think there might be a potential chilling effect for awhile,"