CA NORML News
The Court DID NOT overturn Prop. 215 or other state medical marijuana laws, which remain in full force at the state level.
Writing for the Courtıs majority, Justice John Paul Stevens ruled that the federal government had power to prosecute patients for personal possession and cultivation of marijuana as part of its own powers to regulate interstate commerce notwithstanding state laws allowing medical marijuana. Text of Supreme Court decision Gonzalez vs. Raich may be found at http://a257.g.akamaitech.net/7/257/2422/06jun20051130/www.supremecourtus.gov/opinions/04pdf/03-1454.pdf )
Medical marijuana supporters expressed disappointment at the decision, but noted that it did not change existing law. "California must know that state and federal laws are no different today than they were yesterday," declared California Attorney General Bill Lockyer. "People shouldn't panic. There aren't going to be many changes,'' he added.
"The courtıs decision will not stop Californians from using medical cannabis," said California NORML coordinator Dale Gieringer, "The burden is now on Congress to change our bankrupt federal laws."
Congress is expected to vote in a few days on an amendment by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) that would forbid the Justice Department from spending money to enforce federal laws in violation of state medical marijuana laws. NORML urges supporters to contact their Congressmembers in support of the Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment.
In its opinion, the court pointedly questioned the wisdom of prosecuting patients. "The case is made difficult by respondents' strong arguments that they will suffer irreparable harm because, despite a congressional finding to the contrary, marijuana does have valid therapeutic purposes. The question before us, however, is not whether it is wise to enforce the statute in these circumstances; rather, it is whether Congress' power to regulate interstate markets for medicinal substances encompasses the portions of those markets that are supplied with drugs produced and consumed locally."
A spokesman for the San Francisco DEA office said that the agency was not interested in pursuing individual patients, but rather large scale traffickers.
The courtıs opinion did not bear directly on the legality of distribution or sale of medical cannabis through Californiaıs 150-plus patientsı coops, dispensaries, and delivery services. However, it did preclude them from potentially invoking the defense that they arenıt engaged in interstate commerce. A dozen or so facilities indicated to California NORML that they were closing, but most continued to operate.
The Courtıs majority opinion was written by Justice John Paul Stevens joined by liberals Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Stephen Breyer and conservatives Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, and David Souter.
The minority opinion, by Justice Sandra Day OıConnor, held that the federal government was over-reaching in trying to cover individual medical marijuana patients under its powers of interstate commerce. OıConnor was joined by conservatives Clarence Thomas and Chief Justice Rehnquist.
The court left open other possible legal challenges to the federal law such as medical necessity or substantive due process. Above all, it suggested that medical marijuana supporters get Congress to change the law.