ACLU Says Supreme Court Rejection of Medical Marijuana Buyers' Clubs Leaves State Initiatives Intact

May 14, 2001 12:00 am

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Monday, May 14, 2001

NEW YORK–Today’s unanimous United States Supreme Court decision outlawing any medical marijuana exception under federal law is disappointing, but it is important to note that nothing in this decision affects the validity of the medical marijuana laws passed in California and eight other states.

Under those laws, state and local officials are still barred from prosecuting users of medical marijuana; traditionally, they, not the federal government, have been the only authorities to engage in this kind of law enforcement.

The Justices’ ruling today hinges on a finding by Congress that marijuana has no medical use. Congress ignored the overwhelming evidence on medical use of marijuana; would the Court have deferred to a Congressional finding that the world is flat?

The fact is, every group of voters and every state legislature to consider the scientific and ethical arguments in favor of medical marijuana has ended up endorsing the idea. As today’s opinion demonstrates, Congress is sadly lagging behind states and voters in recognizing the appropriateness of medical marijuana, both as a public health solution and as a humanitarian matter.

On the bright side, the Justices agreed with the ACLU argument that federal judges do have the discretion to allow medical marijuana distribution to continue in the face of the government’s seeking an order to shut the clubs down. A court can instead require the government to take its case before a jury. It is particularly troubling that the federal case circumvented facing a jury in a state whose voters have overwhelmingly approved the use of medical marijuana.

Today’s case arose in response to California voters’ approval of Proposition 215, a law which allows seriously ill patients to grow and use marijuana for pain relief, with a doctor’s recommendation, without state penalties. The federal government has been fighting the law ever since its passage in November 1996.

Initiatives similar to California’s have been passed in Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Washington state.

Note: Boyd is the lead attorney in another Prop. 215 case, Conant v. McCaffrey, in which the ACLU is seeking to permanently block the federal government from censoring or criminally prosecuting California doctors who recommend medical marijuana to their patients. A favorable ruling was issued by a U.S. District Court in California last September; the government has appealed the ruling to the Ninth Circuit.

The decision in the case can be obtained from the Cornell Legal Information Institute at

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