WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The federal government has the power to prevent sick patients
from smoking home-grown marijuana that a doctor recommended to relieve their chronic
pain, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday in a setback for the medical marijuana
The high court ruled that a federal law outlawing marijuana applied to two
seriously ill California women, even though California is one of at least nine
states that allow medical use of marijuana.
Justice John Paul Stevens said for the court majority that the federal law,
the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, was a valid exercise of federal power
by the Congress "even as applied to the troubling facts of this case."
By a 6-3 vote, the justices set aside a lower-court decision in favor of the
It represented another setback for the medical marijuana movement. The high
court ruled in 2001 that California cannabis clubs may not distribute marijuana
as a "medical necessity" for seriously ill patients.
The latest ruling stemmed from a lawsuit brought in 2002 by Angel Raich, who
has an inoperable brain tumor and other medical problems, and Diane Monson,
who suffers from severe back pain. Their doctors recommended marijuana for their
Monson cultivates her own marijuana while two of Raich's caregivers grow the
marijuana and provide it to her free of charge. In 2002, Drug Enforcement Administration
agents destroyed six cannabis plants seized from Monson's home.
Their attorney, Randy Barnett of Boston, argued that medical use of home-grown
marijuana falls outside the power of Congress to regulate trade among the states
and that only marijuana provided relief from the pain the two women suffer.
The ruling was a victory for the Bush administration, which appealed to the
Supreme Court after a federal appeals court in California said that marijuana
used for medical purposes was different from drug trafficking.
The administration estimated that as many as 100,000 Californians would use
marijuana for medical purposes if the Supreme Court ruled for the two women.
Government lawyers said it would be difficult to enforce the nation's drug
laws if there was an exception for medical marijuana. They said the federal
ban trumped the California law, which the voters adopted in 1996 to allow "compassionate
use" of medical marijuana.
The appeals court said states could adopt medical marijuana laws as long as
the marijuana was not sold, transported across state lines or used for nonmedicinal
The Supreme Court set aside that ruling.
Stevens said the power of Congress to regulate commerce among the states includes
the authority to prohibit the local cultivation and use of marijuana in compliance
with California law.
Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Clarence
"This case exemplifies the role of states as laboratories," O'Connor
"Relying on Congress' abstract assertions, the court has endorsed making
it a federal crime to grow small amounts of marijuana in one's own home for
one's own medicinal use," she said. "This overreaching stifles an
express choice by some states ... to regulate medical marijuana differently."