WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled 8-0 in favor of
the federal government in U.S. v. Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative
(No. 00-151) -- a case addressing whether or not medical marijuana
distributors may offer a "medical necessity" defense in federal court.
The Court's ruling DOES NOT OVERTURN STATE LAWS allowing seriously ill
people to possess and grow their own medical marijuana.

This case dealt exclusively with federal law and was essentially
limited to distribution issues. The case did not question a state's
ability to allow patients to grow, possess, and use medical marijuana
under state law.[1]

"Although the Supreme Court has ruled that the medical necessity
defense cannot be used to avoid a federal conviction for marijuana, a
state government may still allow its residents to possess, grow, or
distribute medical marijuana," said Chuck Thomas, director of
communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, which coordinates
efforts to pass medical marijuana bills in state legislatures. MPP
also submitted an amicus brief in the Oakland case.

Nearly 99% of all marijuana arrests in the nation are made by state
and local (not federal) officials. Thus, properly worded state laws
can effectively protect 99 out of every 100 medical marijuana users
who otherwise would have been arrested and prosecuted -- regardless of
the Supreme Court's ruling in the Oakland case.

Since 1996, eight states have removed criminal penalties for
patients who use, possess, and grow medical marijuana with their
doctors' approval.[2] Even though patients and distributors may be
penalized for violating federal marijuana laws, states are not
required to have laws that are identical to federal law, nor can the
federal government require state law-enforcement officials to enforce
federal laws.

"It remains possible for state legislatures to give seriously ill
people legal access to marijuana, despite federal law," said Thomas.
"The outcome of the Oakland case does not change our strategy of
working with state legislators to remove criminal penalties for
legitimate medical marijuana users."


[1] More details about the scope of the case appear in Appendix J of
MPP's new report: http://www.mpp.org/statelaw . The report also
explains what can be done to give patients immediate legal access to
medical marijuana under state law despite federal prohibition, and
provides a model bill and a compilation of resources for effective

[2] Medical marijuana laws were enacted through ballot initiatives in
Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.
In Hawaii, a similar law was passed by the legislature and signed by
the governor in June 2000.