Supreme Court rules against California medical marijuana clubs
The conflict will escalate as the federal government has to face California juries to enforce decision
Steve Schell
May/June 2001

The US Supreme Court ruled 8-0 against the Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative and the Cooperative's attempts to help patients live with serious illnesses. "This decision proves that when the federal government claims to be fighting the drug war to protect health they are lying--in fact denying medicine to the seriously ill undermines health."

The Court, in an opinion written by Justice Clarence Thomas and joined by 4 other Justices, ruled: "medical necessity is not a defense to manufacturing and distributing marijuana." The majority ruled that Congress had the final word on the matter in the Controlled Substances Act. It is important to note, as Justice John Paul Stephens, joined by Justices David Souter and Ruth Ginsburg pointed out, that the Court's ruling DOES NOT OVERTURN STATE LAWS allowing seriously ill people to possess and grow their own medical marijuana. The case did not question a state's ability to allow patients to grow, possess, and use medical marijuana under state law.

"The Court's decision will heighten the conflict around medical marijuana. Caregivers for the seriously ill will continue to provide medical marijuana, thus the federal government will have to enforce the law before juries--where over 70 percent of the population voted for medical marijuana," noted Kevin B. Zeese, President of Common Sense for Drug Policy. "The federal government is likely to lose when they try and enforce this decision. Only then will they respect the will of the voters and the needs of the seriously ill."

State and local (not federal) officials make nearly 99% of all marijuana arrests in the nation. Thus, properly worded state laws can effectively protect 99 out of every 100 medical marijuana users who otherwise would have been arrested and prosecuted--regardless of the Supreme Court's ruling in the Oakland case. Since 1996, eight states--Arizona, Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Washington--have removed criminal penalties for patients who use, possess, and grow medical marijuana with their doctors' approval. Even though patients and distributors may be penalized for violating federal marijuana laws, states are not required to have laws that are identical to federal law, nor can the federal government require state law-enforcement officials to enforce federal laws. Chuck Thomas, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), which coordinates efforts to pass medical marijuana bills in state legislatures, said, "The outcome of the Oakland case does not change our strategy of working with state legislators to remove criminal penalties for legitimate medical marijuana users." MPP submitted an amicus brief in the Oakland case.

"It is unfortunate that the Court has chosen to uphold the federal government's bankrupt and obsolescent policy on medical marijuana," said Dale Gieringer of California NORML, one of the original authors of Proposition 215.

"It would be a serious mistake for the federal government to try to close California's cannabis clubs," Gieringer adds. "The clubs provide a valuable service to their members and their communities. Not only do they provide countless thousands of patients with relief from otherwise intractable illnesses, including chronic pain, muscle spasms, nausea, glaucoma, and appetite loss, but they also promote public safety and order by taking the marijuana traffic out of the hands of street dealers.

"Any effort to close the clubs will generate widespread resistance and disobedience," Gieringer warned. "As soon as one club is closed, others will open. There are now many more patients and clubs in California than when the federal lawsuit began. The feds will be no more successful in prohibiting medical marijuana clubs than they have been in preventing kids from getting it in schools.

"The government would be better advised to change its policy, and not waste more law enforcement resources in a misguided and unwinnable prohibitionist campaign to deny medicine to sick people. The federal government lacks the manpower, competence and moral authority to prevent medical use of marijuana."

According to NORML Legal Counsel Donna Shea, "the Court today struck a blow against medical marijuana distribution clubs. It stated that manufacture and distribution of marijuana is not permitted under the Controlled Substance Act because the Act lists marijuana as a "Schedule I" drug. This means under current law, that marijuana has 'no currently accepted medical use,' 'has a high potential for abuse' and 'has a lack of accepted safety for use ... under medical supervision.' Based on our reading of the facts, the Court's decision, and Justice Stevens' concurrence, we feel sure the decision is limited to manufacture and distribution of marijuana."

NORML Executive Director Keith Stroup expressed dismay over today's ruling: "NORML's disappointment with this ruling stands more with Congress--who continue to stubbornly classify marijuana as a Schedule I prohibited drug--than with the court. Clearly Congress and the Bush administration need to look at rescheduling marijuana so that the states can establish their own legal, medical marijuana distribution systems to supply medicine to those who need it."

But not everyone was railing against the Supreme Court's ruling. There were those, like Family Research Council's Vice President for Policy Robert Maginnis, who praised the court, saying, "the medical marijuana lobby is nothing more than a front for the drug legalization movement. Today's unanimous Supreme Court decision is a major strike against legalizers' crusade to skirt federal drug laws."

"Smoking pot is never sound medicine," Maginnis went on. "The negative effects of smoking outweigh the therapeutic components of the drug. Marijuana's principal active ingredient (THC) is available in a prescribable pill called Marinol; it will soon be available as a suppository, and eventually as an inhaler." True, Marinol has been on the market for quite some time now, but many patients say that it does not work as well, or does not work at all. Compassionate Conservatives would have us believe that they have the patients' best interests at heart, but quote the Controlled Substances Act's "no currently accepted medical use" provision and then turn around and tell us that marijuana's active ingredient is more effective than smoked marijuana. Perhaps this is because Marinol is a product of a pharmaceutical company, whereas the marijuana plant grows naturally and is effective without any (value-added) refining process required.

As for the "no currently accepted medical use" statement, in addition to the uses mentioned above, preliminary studies done in 1975 at the Medical College of Virginia indicated that cannabis reduced the size and number of benign and malignant tumors. Upon hearing this news, the government conducted its own studies, which concluded the same thing. The government for years covered up the results of these studies. This report "The NTP Technical Report on the Toxicology and Carcinogenesis Studies of 1-Trans-Delta(9)- Tetrahydrocannabinol (CAS No. 1972-08-3) in F344/N Rats and B6C3F(1) Mice (Gavage Studies)" is available from NTP Central Data Management, 919/541-1371 Order Report NTP TR 446, NIH Publication No. 94-3362, of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The Court's ruling notwithstanding, the effort here in Florida to place a medical marijuana question on the ballot continues. If you'd like to show your support of medical marijuana, or just marijuana for whatever purpose, head up to the Jax Hempfest on June 2, at Hemming Plaza in downtown Jacksonville. For more information see

A great deal of research on medical marijuana can be accessed via the Common Sense website, at, or at
Dale Gieringer (415) 563-5858 // 2215-R Market St. #278, San Francisco CA 94114
To speak with NORML Legal Counsel Donna Shea or NORML Executive Director Keith Stroup, please contact Nicholas Thimmesch at 202-483-5500.

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