9th Cir. Rules for Medical Marijuana

In a major blow to the Justice Department, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals today ruled that the federal drug crime statute does not apply to those simply using medical marijuana with a doctor's recommendation:

A federal appeals court ruled today that a law outlawing marijuana may not apply to sick people with a doctor's recommendation in states that have approved medical marijuana laws.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, ruling 2-1 in a rare late-afternoon filing, said prosecuting these medical marijuana users under a 1970 federal law is unconstitutional if the marijuana isn't sold, transported across state lines or used for non-medicinal purposes.

``The intrastate, noncommercial cultivation, possession and use of marijuana for personal medical purposes on the advice of a physician is, in fact, different in kind from drug trafficking,'' Judge Harry Pregerson wrote for the majority.
The court added that ``this limited use is clearly distinct from the broader illicit drug market, as well as any broader commercial market for medical marijuana, insofar as the medical marijuana at issue in this case is not intended for, nor does it enter, the stream of commerce.''

The case is Raich v. Ashcroft, 03-15481, the decision is here.

Update: Randy Barnett, a blogger over at Volokh, argued the case. Here's his description of the ruling....warning, it's in legalese:

....the majority is a straightforward adoption of the Commerce Clause doctrine already adopted by the Ninth Circuit in US. v. McCoy and U.S. v. Stewart. Because the class of conduct at issue in this case--the cultivation and use of cannabis for medical purposes--is completely noneconomic, the aggregation principle of Wickard v. Filburn does not apply (as per the Supreme Court in U.S. v. Lopez and U.S. v. Morrison). There is no other jurisdictional "hook" in the Controlled Substances Act and the connection between the class of activities here and interstate commerce is too attenuated.

Update: Howard Bashman of How Appealing lists these news stories on the decision:

Additional press coverage of yesterday's medical marijuana ruling of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit: Henry Weinstein of The Los Angeles Times reports that "Medical Pot Users Win Key Ruling; The U.S. can't prosecute patients who use it on the advice of a physician and obtain the drug at no charge, an appeals court panel rules." Bob Egelko of The San Francisco Chronicle reports that "Medical pot wins a legal victory; U.S. appeals court ruling is likely to face a challenge." And Claire Cooper of The Sacramento Bee reports that "Major ruling favors medical marijuana."

In other coverage, The San Francisco Examiner reports that "9th U.S. Court protects pot patients." The Oakland Tribune reports that "Appeals court orders feds to halt pot raids; 'We feel we've been vindicated after a long, hard effort,' attorney says." The San Jose Mercury News reports that "Court exempts medicinal pot from federal ban." The Seattle Times reports that "Appeals court upholds medical marijuana use." And The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports that "Ruling bolsters medical marijuana law; Court says those who use for medicinal reasons are exempt."

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