Supreme Court says no to pot distribution
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MAY 15, 2001

In a blow to health and states' rights advocates, the Supreme Court on Monday ruled unanimously that federal law prevents the distribution of marijuana even to patients for whom doctors request it.

Overturning a federal appeals decision made in favor of a California pot club, the Court said medical necessity does not overrule federal law. Existing law provides exemptions only for government-approved research projects, the Justices noted.

Yesterday's decision puts a cloud over the growing movement to legalize marijuana for medical and other purposes. The ruling, however, may not have a dramatic effect as states can always refuse to prosecute individuals found in violation.

It also doesn't strike down laws passed in mostly Western states allowing for pot distribution. In addition to California, the states of Arizona, Alaska, Colorado, Maine, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington have voter-approved pot laws.

Hawaii, home to government-sanctioned hemp farms, also has a law on the books, approved last year.

For the most part, Indian Country has been left out of the trend. Reservations are subject to federal authority, regardless of what the neighboring state says.

Last year, the Confederated Colville Tribal Court held that Washington's Initiative 692, passed by voters in 1998, does not apply to the reservation. The case arose after a reservation resident, a member of another Washington tribe, sought to have her use of marijuana to treat irritable bowel syndrome sanctioned.

Marijuana is often recommended by doctors to alleviate pain and side effects for patients with ailments such as asthma, anorexia, nausea or the more serious conditions of cancer and AIDS. In California, the practice has led to clubs where visitors gather to purchase and smoke the illicit substance.

The case in question centered around a club in Oakland. The United States, under the Clinton administration, brought a lawsuit to stop the club, initially winning in federal court.

The club appealed and won in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court reversed that decision, with Justice Stephen G. Breyer recused from the matter, since his brother, Judge Charles Breyer, ruled on the case in federal court.

A states' rights advocate, President Bush said he supported the appeal and was personally against medical marijuana laws.

Get the Decision:
US v. Oakland Cannabis Buyers Coop et. al (US Sup Ct May 14, 2001)

Relevant Links:
The Supreme Court -
Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative -

Related Stories:
Supreme Court to rule on marijuana (11/28)
Tribe: No to marijuana for medical purposes (05/18)