Gonzales v. Raich

PETITIONER: Alberto R. Gonzales, Attorney General, et al.
RESPONDENT: Angel McClary Raich, et al.
LOCATION: Texas State Capitol

DOCKET NO.: 03-1454
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 545 US 1 (2005)
GRANTED: Jun 28, 2004
ARGUED: Nov 29, 2004
DECIDED: Jun 06, 2005

Paul D. Clement - argued the cause for Petitioners
Randy E. Barnett - argued the cause for Respondents

Facts of the case

In 1996 the Compassionate Use Act was upheld aimed to legalize the medical use of marijuana. Before that, in 1970 the Congress had approved the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act to prohibit and reduce the unlawful distribution of drugs.

In 2002 in California the officers from state police and from the federal Drug Enforcement Agency came to the Angel Raich house and destroyed six plants of marijuana, which were grown in the home for the treatment. But this action was explained by that it was prohibited for home use under the federal laws.

The defendant filed a claim arguing that he used this kind of plant to treat the exquisite pain, which was allowed under the internal state regulations. Thus, this enforcement of marijuana prohibition violated the Commerce Clause, the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment and also the Ninth and the Tenth Amendments. Therefore, the appellant argued that the Congress upheld this act unlawfully. The appellate court shared his point of view in decision considering that federal legislation as the infringement of the Constitution. The case study explains the points of that decision as that the legalizing of marijuana for medical purposes didn`t impact negatively on the interstate trade and it could not be subjected to regulation by Congress.

However, the representative of the federal body brought the claim before the Supreme Court to overturn this judgment affirming that the Congress was authorized to implement such act and its provision in accordance with the Commerce Clause. In the final conclusion, the judges confirmed the position of the plaintiff and that opinion that the federal body had enough legislative capacity to pass such regulation which was referred to the marijuana market on the national level. Thus, the court canceled the previous rulings and changed the regulations of state legislative act.


Does the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 801) exceed Congress' power under the commerce clause as applied to the intrastate cultivation and possession of marijuana for medical use?

Media for Gonzales v. Raich

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 29, 2004 in Gonzales v. Raich

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 06, 2005 in Gonzales v. Raich

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in Gonzales versus Raich will be announced by Justice Stevens.

John Paul Stevens:

This case comes to us from the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

California is one of at least nine states that authorize the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

The question presented in this case is whether the power vested in Congress by Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution its authority to regulate interstate commerce includes the power to prohibit the local cultivation and use of marijuana in compliance with California law.

Respondents are seriously ill California residents.

Their doctors have concluded after unsuccessfully prescribing a host of conventional medicines that marijuana is the only drug available that provides effective treatment.

Both women have been using marijuana as a medication for several years pursuant to their doctors’ recommendation, and both rely heavily on cannabis to function on a daily basis.

While respondents’ activities do not violate California law, they do violate the Federal Controlled Substance Act of 1970, a comprehensive regulatory statute which, among other things, categorically prohibits the manufacture, distribution, or possession of marijuana for any purpose.

After agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration seized and destroyed their cannabis plants, respondents filed this action to prohibit enforcement of the federal statute to the extent that it prevents them from cultivating marijuana for their personal medical use.

The District Court denied relief, but the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that as applied to their activities, the CSA exceeded Congress power under the Commerce Clause.

Because of the obvious importance of the case, we granted certiorari.

The case is extremely troublesome because respondents have made such a strong showing that they will suffer irreparable harm if denied the use of marijuana to treat their serious medical illness.

But the question before us is not whether marijuana does in fact have valid therapeutic purposes, nor whether it is a good policy for the Federal Government to enforce the Controlled Substances Act in these circumstances.

Rather, the only question before us is whether Congress has the power to prohibit respondents’ activities.

California law does not really affect our answer to that question for it is well-settled that the outer limits of congressional power under the Commerce Clause are defined exclusively by federal law.

The Supremacy Clause unambiguously provides that if there is any conflict between federal and state law, federal law shall prevail.

The federal power can neither be enlarged nor diminished by the exercise or non-exercise of state power.

Our case law firmly establishes that Congress has the power to regulate purely local activities when necessary to implement a comprehensive national regulatory program.

Neither the fact that respondents used locally grown marijuana for medicinal rather than recreational purposes, nor the fact that their use for such purposes is permitted by California Law, justifies a constitutionally-compelled exemption from the comprehensive regulatory scheme created by the Controlled Substances Act.

For the reason stated at length in an opinion filed with the Clerk, we therefore vacate the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand the case for further proceedings.

Justice Scalia has filed an opinion concurring in the judgment; Justice O’Connor has filed a dissenting opinion in which the Chief Justice and Justice Thomas have joined except for part three of, and Justice Thomas has also filed a dissenting opinion.