Supreme Court Rules Against Use of Marijuana for Medical Purposes
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ruled 6-3 that federal authorities can prosecute people who use marijuana even if recommended by a physician, the AP/Washington Post reports (Holland, AP/Washington Post, 6/6).
The case was an appeal of a December 2003 decision in which the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of plaintiffs Angel Raich and Diana Monson, who used medical marijuana. Raich has a brain tumor, life-threatening weight loss, a seizure disorder and nausea and Diana Monson has severe back pain and constant muscle spasms caused by a degenerative spine disease.
In 2002, Drug Enforcement Administration agents seized and destroyed marijuana plants in Monson's possession. The two women sued then-Attorney General John Ashcroft to prevent future raids.
In that case, the court ruled federal prosecution of medical marijuana patients is unconstitutional if the drug is not sold, transported across state lines or used for nonmedical purposes. In the decision, Judge Harry Pregerson wrote "noncommerical cultivation, possession and use of marijuana for personal medical purposes" is "different in kind from drug trafficking," is protected under state law and does not come under federal authority (California Healthline, 11/30/04).
Under the ruling, state laws -- such as Proposition 215, a 1996 California law that legalized marijuana use for medical purposes if recommended by a physician -- do not protect medical marijuana users from prosecution under the federal Controlled Substances Act, which prohibits use of marijuana and other substances. Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington state have laws similar to Proposition 215.
Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for the majority, said there are legal treatment options for patients, "but perhaps even more important than these legal avenues is the democratic process, in which the voices of voters allied with these respondents may one day be heard in the halls of Congress." Stevens wrote that Congress could change the law to permit the use of medical marijuana.
In a dissent, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said states should be able to set their own rules on the matter. O'Connor wrote, "The states' core police powers have always included authority to define criminal law and to protect the health, safety and welfare of their citizens" (AP/Washington Post, 6/6).