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Gonzales v. Raich (previously Ashcroft v. Raich), 545 U.S. 1 (2005), was a case in which the United States Supreme Courtmarker ruled on June 6, 2005 that under the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution, which allows the United States Congress "To regulate Commerce... among the several States," Congress may ban the use of cannabis even where states approve its use for medicinal purposes.

John Ashcroft was in the case's name because he was Attorney General when the case was filed. The case was renamed when Alberto Gonzales became Attorney General.

Factual background

Californiamarker voters passed Proposition 215 in 1996, legalizing the medical use of marijuana. The United States Federal Government has limited the use of marijuana since the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act came into effect. Defendant Angel Raich used homegrown medical marijuana, which was legal under California law, but illegal under federal law. On August 15,2002, Butte County Sheriff's Department officers and agents from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) destroyed all six of California resident Diane Monson's marijuana plants, facing light resistance. The marijuana plants were illegal Schedule I drugs under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA). CSA is Title II of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970. Monson and Angel Raich sued, claiming that enforcing the CSA against them would violate the Commerce Clause, the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, the Ninth Amendment to the United States Constitution, the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, and the doctrine of medical necessity.

California was one of eight states that allowed medicinal use of marijuana. California's Compassionate Use Act allows limited use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. Angel Raich's physician said that without marijuana, Raich would be in excruciating pain and could die.

Legal background

The United Statesmarker has a federal structure, with power divided between the states and the federal government. The state governments can act in any sphere not prohibited to them (10th Amendment, U.S. Constitution) but the federal government can pass laws only in areas specifically delegated to it (Art. I, U.S. Constitution). The state governments have general police power, which the federal government does not have. Consequently, a substantial amount of U.S. federal law regulating numerous areas, including economic legislation and criminal law, are legally premised on an exercise of the Commerce Clause. The Commerce Clause, along with the Fourteenth Amendment and the spending power, allows Congress to do things that affect states. For more information, see States' rights and the Rehnquist Court.

Many expansions of federal power enacted during the first phase of the New Deal in the 1930s, on the basis of the federal commerce power, were struck down by the Supreme Court of the United Statesmarker, until President Franklin Delano Roosevelt proposed increasing the number of justices on the Court from nine to fifteen (the court packing scheme) and filling the new positions with jurists sympathetic to his New Deal initiatives. However, in what was called "the switch in time that saved nine," the Court reversed course and upheld new expansions of federal power, and the number of justices was not increased.

The case of Raich and Monson against the government

Angel Raich of Oakland, Californiamarker, Diane Monson of Oroville, Californiamarker, and two anonymous caregivers sued the government for injunctive and declaratory relief on October 9, 2002 to stop the government from interfering with their right to produce and use medical marijuana claiming that the Controlled Substances Act was not constitutional as applied to their conduct.

Angel Raich claimed she used marijuana to keep herself alive. She and her doctor claimed to have tried dozens of prescription medicines for her numerous medical conditions, and that she was allergic to most of them. Her doctor declared under oath that Raich's life was at stake if she could not continue to use marijuana. Diane Monson suffered from chronic pain due to a car accident a decade before the case. She used marijuana to relieve the pain and muscle spasms around her spine.

The government's case

The Controlled Substances Act does not recognize the medical use of marijuana. Agents from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) were assigned to break up California's medical marijuana co-ops and seize their assets. This activity was the result of the belief that federal law preempted that of California. The government argued that if a single exception was made to the Controlled Substances Act, it would become unenforceable in practice. The government also contended that consuming one's locally grown marijuana for medical purposes affects the interstate market of marijuana, and hence that the federal government may regulate—and prohibit—such consumption.


On December 16, 2003, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals granted a preliminary injunction to prevent the federal government from interfering with Raich and Monson. In their ruling, they declared: "We find that the appellants have demonstrated a strong likelihood of success on their claim that, as applied to them, the Controlled Substances Act is an unconstitutional exercise of Congress' Commerce Clause authority..."

Organizations involved

Partnership for a Drug-Free America, several other anti-drug organizations, alliance of seven congressmen including Mark Souder and Katherine Harris filed amicus brief for the side of federal government. The environmentalist group Community Rights Council also filed a brief for the government, fearing limitation of federal power would undermine their agenda.

The Cato Institute, Institute for Justice, many libertarian organizations, and NORML, along with other groups opposing the War on Drugs, filed briefs for Raich and Monson. The governments of Californiamarker, Marylandmarker, and Washingtonmarker also filed briefs supporting Raich. The attorneys general of Alabamamarker, Louisianamarker, and Mississippimarker, three strongly anti-drug states from the usually conservative South, filed a brief supporting Raich on the grounds of states' rights.

The decision

The last of the three was relevant to the issue at hand. The relevant precedents for it are Wickard v. Filburn (1942), United States v. Lopez (1995) and United States v. Morrison (2000).

The starting point for the Court's opinion was the fact that it was conceded that Congress had the right to control or ban marijuana for non-medical uses:
Respondents in this case do not dispute that passage of the CSA, as part of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act, was well within Congress' commerce power.
Nor do they contend that any provision or section of the CSA amounts to an unconstitutional exercise of congressional authority.
Rather, respondents' challenge is actually quite limited; they argue that the CSA's categorical prohibition of the manufacture and possession of marijuana as applied to the intrastate manufacture and possession of marijuana for medical purposes pursuant to California law exceeds Congress' authority under the Commerce Clause.

Banning the growing of marijuana for medical use, the Court reasoned, was a permissible way of preventing or limiting access to marijuana for other uses:

Even respondents acknowledge the existence of an illicit market in marijuana; indeed, Raich has personally participated in that market, and Monson expresses a willingness to do so in the future.
More concretely, one concern prompting inclusion of wheat grown for home consumption in the 1938 Act was that rising market prices could draw such wheat into the interstate market, resulting in lower market prices.
Wickard, 317 U.S., at 128.
The parallel concern making it appropriate to include marijuana grown for home consumption in the CSA is the likelihood that the high demand in the interstate market will draw such marijuana into that market.
While the diversion of homegrown wheat tended to frustrate the federal interest in stabilizing prices by regulating the volume of commercial transactions in the interstate market, the diversion of homegrown marijuana tends to frustrate the federal interest in eliminating commercial transactions in the interstate market in their entirety.
In both cases, the regulation is squarely within Congress' commerce power because production of the commodity meant for home consumption, be it wheat or marijuana, has a substantial effect on supply and demand in the national market for that commodity

Scalia's opinion

Justice Scalia wrote a separate concurrence that aimed to differentiate the decision from the more recent results of United States v. Lopez and United States v. Morrison. Although Scalia voted in favor of limits on the Commerce Clause in the Lopez and Morrison decisions, he said that his understanding of the Necessary and Proper Clause caused him to vote for the Commerce Clause with Raich for the following reason:

Dissenting opinions

Justice O'Connor, dissenting, began her opinion by citing United States v. Lopez, which she followed with a reference to Justice Louis Brandeis's dissenting opinion in New State Ice Co. v. Liebmann:

O'Connor concluded:

Justice Thomas also wrote a separate dissent, stating in part:


and further:

Chief Justice William Rehnquist, author of the majority opinions in United States v. Lopez and United States v. Morrison, joined O'Connor's dissent.


Both Raich and Monson have indicated their intention to continue using marijuana for medical use in spite of the ruling.

Two days after the ruling, the International Narcotics Control Board issued a statement indicating that the Board "welcomes the decision of the United States Supreme Court, made on 6 June, reaffirming that the cultivation and use of cannabis, even if it is for 'medical' use, should be prohibited." INCB President Hamid Ghodse noted, "Cannabis is classified under international conventions as a drug with a number of personal and public health problems," referring to the drug's Schedule I status under the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.

Not long after the decision in Raich, the Court vacated a lower court decision in United States v. Stewart and remanded it to the court of appeals for reconsideration in light of Raich. In Stewart, the Ninth Circuit had held that Congress lacked the Commerce Clause power to criminalize the possession of homemade machine guns.

In Congress, in order to counter the effect of this ruling, Representative Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) annually introduce legislation to stop the Department of Justicemarker from arresting and prosecuting medical marijuana patients. This effort has not yet succeeded, as most members of Congress voted against the bill. In 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the United States DOJmarker will no longer prosecute medical marijuana patients and providers who comply with their respective state laws.[148578]

In 2007, the Ninth Circuit decided against Angel Raich, when she renewed her litigation on substantive due process grounds. Judge Harry Pregerson, the author of the opinion, noted that only a minority of states legalized medical marijuana and it is not a recognized "fundamental right" under the due process clause. However, Pregerson also wrote that she could use medical necessity individually if she is ever arrested for using medical marijuana.

See also


  3. Court to Hear Marijuana Case Legality of Cultivating Plant for Medical Use Is at Issue Charles Lane, The Washington Post, November 29, 2004
  6. Raich v. Ashcroft - A Guide to the Supreme Court Case
  7. INCB: US Supreme Court Decision on Cannabis Upholds International Law
  8. In Wake of Supreme Court Ruling, Dozens of Newspaper Editorials Nationwide call on Legislators To Support Federal Amendment to Protect Medical Marijuana Patients
  9. FINAL VOTE RESULTS FOR ROLL CALL 333 (June 28, 2006) on Hinchey of New York Amendment No. 2 to H R 5672

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