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Gonzales v. Raich

Gonzales v. Raich
Supreme Court of the United States
Argued November 29, 2004
Decided June 6, 2005
Full case name: Alberto Gonzales, Attorney General, et al. v. Angel McClary Raich, et al.
Citations:545 U.S. 1; 125 S. Ct. 2195; 162 L. Ed. 2d 1; 2005 U.S. LEXIS 4656; 73 U.S.L.W. 4407; 18 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 327
Prior history:Raich v. Ashcroft, 248 F. Supp. 2d 918 (N.D. Cal.), rev'd, 352 F.3d 1222 (9th Cir. 2003), cert. granted, 542 U.S. 936 (2004)
Subsequent history: None
Argument:Link to Oral Argument
Congress may ban the use of marijuana even where states approve its use for medicinal purposes.
Court membership
Chief Justice: William Rehnquist
Associate Justices: John Paul Stevens, Sandra Day O'Connor, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, David Souter, Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer
Case opinions
Majority by: Stevens
Joined by: Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer
Concurrence by: Scalia
Dissent by: O'Connor
Joined by: Rehnquist (part I, II), Thomas (parts I, II)
Dissent by: Thomas
Laws applied
U.S. Const. art. I, § 8, cl. 3, 18 (the Commerce and Necessary and Proper Clauses); Controlled Substances Act, 21 U.S.C. §§ 801-971 (2000); Compassionate Use Act of 1996, Cal. Health & Safety Code § 11362.5 (West Supp. 2005)

Gonzales v. Raich (previously Ashcroft v. Raich), 545 U.S. 1 (2005), was a case in which the United States Supreme Court 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.


The case

The case dealt with the Controlled Substances Act and medical marijuana. The question presented to the Court was: Is the Controlled Substances Act a constitutional use of the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution?

Factual background

California voters passed Proposition 215 of 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. The marijuana plants were illegal schedule one 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, the Ninth and Tenth Amendments of the Constitution, and the doctrine of medical necessity.

California was one of nine 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 States has a federal structure, with power divided between the states and the federal government. Many expansions of federal power enacted during the first phase of the New Deal in the 1930s were struck down by the Supreme Court of the United States, until President Franklin Delano Roosevelt unsuccessfully proposed increasing the number of judges on the Court to fifteen (the court packing scheme) and filling the new positions with sympathetic judges. However, in what was called "the switch in time that saved nine," the Court reversed course and found reasons to uphold new expansions of federal power.

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.

The case of Raich and Monson against the government

Angel Raich of Oakland, California, Diane Monson of Oroville, California, 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.

They claimed the seizure was a violation of the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, which grants the federal government the power to regulate "commerce," but only commerce that occurs "among the several States," with foreign countries, and "with the Indian tribes." Raich argued that her possession and consumption of medical marijuana was not commerce. Neither she nor Monson paid for their marijuana, and neither obtained it from another state. The soil, seeds, nutrients, and lumber used to grow the marijuana were obtained within California.

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 United States Federal law, via 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 [1], alliance of seven congressmen including Mark Souder and Katherine Harris filed amicus brief for the side of federal government.[2] The environmentalist group Community Rights Council also filed a brief for the government, fearing limitation of federal power would undermine their agenda. [3]

The Cato Institute [4], Institute for Justice [5], many libertarian organizations, and NORML, along with other groups opposing the War on Drugs, filed briefs for Raich and Monson. The government of California, Maryland, and Washington also filed briefs supporting Raich. The attorneys general of Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi, three strongly anti-drug states from the usually conservative South, filed a brief supporting Raich on the grounds of state's rights. [6][7]


Legal briefs were filed and oral argument occurred on November 29, 2004 (transcript). The 6-3 decision, written by Justice Stevens, was issued on June 6 2005. It upheld the validity of Controlled Substances Act as an exercise of federal power because Congress "could have rationally concluded that the aggregate impact on the national market of all the transactions exempted from federal supervision is unquestionably substantial." The majority did not address the substantive due process claims raised by the respondents.

The Commerce Clause was the main issue. Congress' power to regulate interstate commerce includes power to regulate:

  • channels of interstate commerce.
  • instrumentalities of interstate commerce.
  • activities that substantially affect interstate commerce.

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).

Stevens' opinion for the Court for the Raich decision said that Lopez and Morrison don't apply, since marijuana is a popular part of commerce, and that the Commerce Clause applies whether the commerce is legal or not. According to Stevens, Wickard was the correct precedent by which to go. During the American Great Depression, the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938 imposed quotas on crops including wheat. The farmer Roscoe Filburn produced wheat in excess of the quota, but said the excess wheat was for his own personal consumption and therefore had no effect on interstate commerce. The Court ruled that a farmer's growing "his own wheat" is "commerce" because if he had not grown and consumed it, he would have had to buy it from someone. Hence, in the aggregate, if farmers were allowed to consume their own wheat it would affect the interstate market in wheat. This case marked what may be the high water mark of the commerce power. For sixty years—until the Lopez decision—the Supreme Court struck down no law as exceeding the power of Congress under the Commerce Clause. Like Filburn, Raich and Monson said that their marijuana was only for personal use, and therefore not part of commerce. Stevens said that since the Wickard aggregation principle was valid, the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution allowed federal law to override state law.

Congress' power under the Commerce Clause was used for many important pieces of legislation, including the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Court had already reaffirmed some precedents and created others that limit the power of Congress over the states, and increased the power of the Court over Congress. With Raich, the Court declined to go further in that direction.

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:

Unlike the power to regulate activities that have a substantial effect on interstate commerce, the power to enact laws enabling effective regulation of interstate commerce can only be exercised in conjunction with congressional regulation of an interstate market, and it extends only to those measures necessary to make the interstate regulation effective. As Lopez itself states, and the Court affirms today, Congress may regulate noneconomic intrastate activities only where the failure to do so “could … undercut” its regulation of interstate commerce. ... This is not a power that threatens to obliterate the line between “what is truly national and what is truly local.” Lopez


Justice O'Connor, dissenting (transcript), 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:

Federalism promotes innovation by allowing for the possibility that “a single courageous State may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.

O'Connor concluded:

Relying on Congress’ abstract assertions, the Court has endorsed making it a federal crime to grow small amounts of marijuana in one’s own home for one’s own medicinal use. This overreaching stifles an express choice by some States, concerned for the lives and liberties of their people, to regulate medical marijuana differently. If I were a California citizen, I would not have voted for the medical marijuana ballot initiative; if I were a California legislator I would not have supported the Compassionate Use Act. But whatever the wisdom of California’s experiment with medical marijuana, the federalism principles that have driven our Commerce Clause cases require that room for experiment be protected in this case.

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

Respondent's local cultivation and consumption of marijuana is not "Commerce ... among the several States."

Certainly no evidence from the founding suggests that "commerce" included the mere possession of a good or some personal activity that did not involve trade or exchange for value. In the early days of the Republic, it would have been unthinkable that Congress could prohibit the local cultivation, possession, and consumption of marijuana.

Chief Justice William Rehnquist, the original author of the commerce clause cases 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. Some activists hope this decision is similar to the Dred Scott case, which was later superseded by constitutional amendment.

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 [8].

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 Justice from arresting and prosecuting medical marijuana patients. [9] This effort has not yet succeeded, as most members of Congress voted against the bill. [10]

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 ever gets arrested for using medical marijuana.[11]

See also

  • Legal history of marijuana in the United States
  • List of United States Supreme Court cases, volume 545
  • Wickard v. Filburn

External links and references

  • Majority opinion in the case, delivered by Stevens, joined by Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer.
  • Justice Scalia's separate concurrence.
  • Dissenting opinion, delivered by O'Connor, joined by Rehnquist and partially joined by Thomas.
  • Justice Thomas's separate dissent.
  • Decision Examination
  • - All Opinions
  • Opposing the government:
    • David Morris, AlterNet, June 15, 2005, The Sainted Clause
    • Pot Shots on Journalistic article on the arguments, case.
    • Angel Raich's web site on the case. Includes all the legal briefs
    • Older Angel Raich site.
    • A Drug Policy Alliance article on the case
  • Favoring the government:
    • Federal government's legal brief to the Supreme Court (from Angel's web site)
    • Amicus brief from Drug Free America Foundation and others (submitted to Supreme Court) (from Angel's web site)
    • INCB: US Supreme Court Decision on Cannabis Upholds International Law, International Narcotics Control Board, June 8, 2005.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Gonzales_v._Raich". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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