Medical use of marijuana is a violation of federal law, and those who grow or distribute it may be subject to federal injunctions and/or prosecution.
In an 8-to-0 decision Monday, the US Supreme Court ruled that federal drug laws provide no exception for such use.
However, state laws designed to decriminalize medicinal use of marijuana still stand. The effect of the decision, therefore, may be to drive clubs underground that facilitate the medical use of marijuana so they avoid the attention of federal drug agents.
Still, the ruling is a major setback to a growing movement in many states that advocates a compassionate exception to narcotics laws for those seeking to alleviate suffering through physician-approved marijuana use.
At issue in the case, US v. Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative, was whether distributors and users of marijuana in California who are acting under a "medical necessity" should be excused from compliance with federal drug laws.
In his decision for the court, Justice Clarence Thomas said Congress had determined that there is "no currently accepted medical use" for marijuana.
"In the case of the Controlled Substances Act, the statute reflects a determination that marijuana has no medical benefits worthy of an exception," Justice Thomas writes.
Justice Stephen Breyer played no role in the case because his brother, a federal judge, presided over the trial.
The decision stems from a 1998 lawsuit filed by the federal government seeking to shut down six "cannabis clubs" in California that facilitate the medical use of marijuana.
Voters in California passed a referendum in 1996 permitting those suffering from various illnesses, including cancer and AIDS, to use marijuana upon a physician's recommendation. Following passage of the law, several cannabis clubs were formed to provide a safe and reliable source of marijuana for those whose doctors had approved its use.
Lawyers with the Justice Department charged in their suit that the state law clashed with federal drug laws.
Lawyers for the clubs countered that the clubs and their clients were exempt from the federal marijuana ban because a patient's use of the drug constitutes a medical necessity.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor