LegalReader.com  ·  Legal News, Analysis, & Commentary

News & Politics

9th Circuit Okays Private Medical Marijuana Use


— December 16, 2003

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 decision was a blow to the Justice Department, which argued that medical marijuana laws in nine states were trumped by the Controlled Substances Act, which outlawed marijuana, heroin and a host of other drugs nationwide.

The case concerned two seriously ill California women who sued Attorney General John Ashcroft. They asked for a court order letting them smoke, grow or obtain marijuana without fear of federal prosecution.

The AP’s report is here. The Court’s opinion, Raich v. Ashcroft, is here (authored by Judge Pregerson with a dissent by Judge Beam).


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 decision was a blow to the Justice Department, which argued that medical marijuana laws in nine states were trumped by the Controlled Substances Act, which outlawed marijuana, heroin and a host of other drugs nationwide.

The case concerned two seriously ill California women who sued Attorney General John Ashcroft. They asked for a court order letting them smoke, grow or obtain marijuana without fear of federal prosecution.

The AP’s report is here. The Court’s opinion, Raich v. Ashcroft, is here (authored by Judge Pregerson with a dissent by Judge Beam).

Join the conversation!