532 U.S. 483 (2001), 00-151, United States v. Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative

Docket NºCase No. 00-151
Citation532 U.S. 483, 121 S.Ct. 1711, 149 L.Ed.2d 722
Party NameUNITED STATES v. OAKLAND CANNABIS BUYERS' COOPERATIVE et al.
Case DateMay 14, 2001
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Page 483

532 U.S. 483 (2001)

121 S.Ct. 1711, 149 L.Ed.2d 722

UNITED STATES

v.

OAKLAND CANNABIS BUYERS' COOPERATIVE et al.

Case No. 00-151

United States Supreme Court

May 14, 2001

Argued March 28, 2001

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Respondent Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative was organized to distribute marijuana to qualified patients for medical purposes. The United States sued to enjoin the Cooperative and its executive director, also a respondent (together, the Cooperative), under the Controlled Substances Act. The United States argued that the Cooperative's activities violated the Act's prohibitions on distributing, manufacturing, and possessing with the intent to distribute or manufacture a controlled substance. The District Court enjoined the Cooperative's activities, but the Cooperative continued to distribute marijuana. The District Court found the Cooperative in contempt, rejecting its defense that any distributions were medically necessary. The court later rejected the Cooperative's motion to modify the injunction to permit medically necessary distributions. The Cooperative appealed, and the Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded the ruling on the motion to modify the injunction. According to the Ninth Circuit, medical necessity is a legally cognizable defense likely applicable in the circumstances, the District Court mistakenly believed it had no discretion to issue an injunction more limited in scope than the Controlled Substances Act, and the District Court should have weighed the public interest and considered factors such as the serious harm in depriving patients of marijuana in deciding whether to modify the injunction.

Held:

1. There is no medical necessity exception to the Controlled Substances Act's prohibitions on manufacturing and distributing marijuana. Pp. 489-495.

(a) Because that Act classifies marijuana as a schedule I controlled substance, it provides only one express exception to the prohibitions on manufacturing and distributing the drug: Government-approved research projects. The Cooperative's contention that a common-law medical necessity defense should be written into the Act is rejected. There is an open question whether federal courts ever have authority to recognize a necessity defense not provided by statute. But that question need not be answered to resolve the issue presented here, for the terms

Page 484

BUYERS' COOPERATIVE Syllabus of the Controlled Substances Act leave no doubt that the medical necessity defense is unavailable. Pp. 489-491.

(b) Under any conception of legal necessity, the defense cannot succeed when the legislature itself has made a determination of values. Here, the Act reflects a determination that marijuana has no medical benefits worthy of an exception (other than Government-approved research). Whereas other drugs can be dispensed and prescribed for medical use, see 21 U.S.C. § 829, the same is not true for marijuana, which has "no currently accepted medical use" at all, § 812. This conclusion is supported by the structure of the Act, which divides drugs into five schedules, depending in part on whether a drug has a currently accepted medical use, and then imposes restrictions according to the schedule in which it has been placed. The Attorney General is authorized to include a drug in schedule I, the most restrictive schedule, only if the drug has no currently accepted medical use. The Cooperative errs in arguing that, because Congress, instead of the Attorney General, placed marijuana into that schedule, marijuana can be distributed when medically necessary. The statute treats all schedule I drugs alike, and there is no reason why drugs that Congress placed there should be subject to fewer controls than those that the Attorney General placed there. Also rejected is the Cooperative's argument that a drug may be found medically necessary for a particular patient or class even when it has not achieved general acceptance as a medical treatment. It is clear from the text of the Act that Congress determined that marijuana has no medical benefits worthy of an exception granted to other drugs. The statute expressly contemplates that many drugs have a useful medical purpose, see § 801(1), but it includes no exception at all for any medical use of marijuana. This Court is unwilling to view that omission as an accident and is unable, in any event, to override a legislative determination manifest in the statute. Finally, the canon of constitutional avoidance has no application here, because there is no statutory ambiguity. Pp. 491-495.

2. The discretion that courts of equity traditionally possess in fashioning relief does not serve as a basis for affirming the Ninth Circuit in this case. To be sure, district courts properly acting as courts of equity have discretion unless a statute clearly provides otherwise. But the mere fact that the District Court had discretion does not suggest that the court, when evaluating the motion, could consider any and all factors that might relate to the public interest or the parties' conveniences, including medical needs. Equity courts cannot ignore Congress' judgment expressed in legislation. Their choice is whether a particular means of enforcement should be chosen over another permissible means,

Page 485

not whether enforcement is preferable to no enforcement at all. To the extent a district court considers the public interest and parties' conveniences, the court is limited to evaluating how those factors are affected by the selection of an injunction over other enforcement mechanisms. Because the Controlled Substances Act covers even those who have what could be termed a medical necessity, it precludes consideration of the evidence that the Ninth Circuit deemed relevant. Pp. 495-499.

190 F.3d 1109, reversed and remanded.

Thomas, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Rehnquist, C. J., and O'Connor, Scalia, and Kennedy, JJ., joined. Stevens, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which Souter and Ginsburg, JJ., joined, post, p. 499. Breyer, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

Acting Solicitor General Underwood argued the cause for the United States. With her on the briefs were former Solicitor General Waxman, Assistant Attorney General Ogden, Deputy Solicitor General Kneedler, and Lisa Schiavo Blatt.

Gerald F. Uelmen argued the cause for respondents. With him on the brief were James J. Brosnahan, Annette P. Carnegie, Christina Kirk-Kazhe, Robert A. Raich, and Randy E. Barnett. [*]

Page 486

Justice Thomas delivered the opinion of the Court.

The Controlled Substances Act, 84 Stat. 1242, 21 U.S.C. § 801 et seq., prohibits the manufacture and distribution of various drugs, including marijuana. In this case, we must decide whether there is a medical necessity exception to these prohibitions. We hold that there is not.

I

In November 1996, California voters enacted an initiative measure entitled the Compassionate Use Act of 1996. Attempting "[t]o ensure that seriously ill Californians have the right to obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes," Cal. Health & Safety Code Ann. § 11362.5 (West Supp. 2001), the statute creates an exception to California laws prohibiting the possession and cultivation of marijuana. These prohibitions no longer apply to a patient or his primary caregiver who possesses or cultivates marijuana for the patient's medical purposes upon the recommendation or approval of a physician. Ibid. In the wake of this voter initiative, several groups organized "medical cannabis dispensaries" to meet the needs of qualified patients. United States v. Cannabis Cultivators Club, 5 F.Supp.2d 1086, 1092 (ND Cal. 1998). Respondent Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative is one of these groups.

The Cooperative is a not-for-profit organization that operates in downtown Oakland. A physician serves as medical director, and registered nurses staff the Cooperative during business hours. To become a member, a patient must provide a written statement from a treating physician assenting to marijuana therapy and must submit to a screening interview. If accepted as a member, the patient receives an identification card entitling him to obtain marijuana from the Cooperative.

In January 1998, the United States sued the Cooperative and its executive director, respondent Jeffrey Jones (together,

Page 487

the Cooperative), in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. Seeking to enjoin the Cooperative from distributing and manufacturing marijuana,[1] the United States argued that, whether or not the Cooperative's activities are legal under California law, they violate federal law. Specifically, the Government argued that the Cooperative violated the Controlled Substances Act's prohibitions on distributing, manufacturing, and possessing with the intent to distribute or manufacture a controlled substance. 21 U.S.C. § 841(a). Concluding that the Government had established a probability of success on the merits, the District Court granted a preliminary injunction. App. to Pet. for Cert. 39a-40a; 5 F.Supp. 2d, at 1105.

The Cooperative did not appeal the injunction but instead openly violated it by distributing marijuana to numerous persons, App. to Pet. for Cert. 21a-23a. To terminate these violations, the Government initiated contempt proceedings. In defense, the Cooperative contended that any distributions were medically necessary. Marijuana is the only drug, according to the Cooperative, that can alleviate the severe pain and other debilitating symptoms of the Cooperative's patients. Id., at 29a. The District Court rejected this defense, however, after determining there was insufficient evidence that each recipient of marijuana was in actual danger of imminent harm without the drug. Id., at 29a-32a. The District...

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427 practice notes
  • 73 M.J. 864 (Army Crim.App. 2014), 20140293, United States v. Gross
    • United States
    • Federal Cases Military Appeals
    • August 28, 2014
    ...be prohibited." United States v. Nerad, 69 M.J. 138, 140 (C.A.A.F. 2010) (quoting United States v. Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Coop., 532 U.S. 483, 497, 121 S.Ct. 1711, 149 L.Ed.2d 722 (2001)); see also Badaracco v. Commissioner, 464 U.S. 386, 398, 104 S.Ct. 756, 78 L.Ed.2d 549 (1984) (&q......
  • 919 F.Supp.2d 423 (S.D.N.Y. 2013), 12 Cr. 154(RJS), United States v. Scott
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 2nd Circuit Southern District of New York
    • January 30, 2013
    ...has " no application" where the statutory language at issue is unambiguous. United States v. Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Coop., 532 U.S. 483, 494, 121 S.Ct. 1711, 149 L.Ed.2d 722 (2001); accord United States v. Magassouba, 544 F.3d 387, 404 (2d Cir.2008) (" Only if we conclude t......
  • 983 A.2d 557 (Md.App. 2009), 2714, Anne Arundel County Ethics Com'n v. Dvorak
    • United States
    • Maryland Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • November 24, 2009
    ...an absolute duty upon courts to issue injunctive relief. Most recently, in United States v. Oakland Cannibus [Cannabis] Buyers Co-op., [532 U.S. 483, 121 S.Ct. 1711, 149 L.Ed.2d 722 (2001)], the Supreme Court emphasized that its ruling in Hill [ , supra, 437 U.S. 153, 98 S.Ct. 2279], i.e. t......
  • 600 B.R. 368 (Bkrtcy.E.D.Mich. 2019), 18-56801, In re Basrah Custom Design, Inc.
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Bankruptcy Courts Sixth Circuit
    • May 21, 2019
    ...research study. § § 823(f), 841(a)(1), 844(a); see also Page 379 United States v. Oakland Cannabis Buyers’ Cooperative, 532 U.S. 483, 490, 121 S.Ct. 1711, 149 L.Ed.2d 722 (2001). Despite considerable efforts to reschedule marijuana, it remains a Schedule ......
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349 cases
  • 73 M.J. 864 (Army Crim.App. 2014), 20140293, United States v. Gross
    • United States
    • Federal Cases Military Appeals
    • August 28, 2014
    ...be prohibited." United States v. Nerad, 69 M.J. 138, 140 (C.A.A.F. 2010) (quoting United States v. Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Coop., 532 U.S. 483, 497, 121 S.Ct. 1711, 149 L.Ed.2d 722 (2001)); see also Badaracco v. Commissioner, 464 U.S. 386, 398, 104 S.Ct. 756, 78 L.Ed.2d 549 (1984) (&q......
  • 919 F.Supp.2d 423 (S.D.N.Y. 2013), 12 Cr. 154(RJS), United States v. Scott
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 2nd Circuit Southern District of New York
    • January 30, 2013
    ...has " no application" where the statutory language at issue is unambiguous. United States v. Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Coop., 532 U.S. 483, 494, 121 S.Ct. 1711, 149 L.Ed.2d 722 (2001); accord United States v. Magassouba, 544 F.3d 387, 404 (2d Cir.2008) (" Only if we conclude t......
  • 983 A.2d 557 (Md.App. 2009), 2714, Anne Arundel County Ethics Com'n v. Dvorak
    • United States
    • Maryland Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • November 24, 2009
    ...an absolute duty upon courts to issue injunctive relief. Most recently, in United States v. Oakland Cannibus [Cannabis] Buyers Co-op., [532 U.S. 483, 121 S.Ct. 1711, 149 L.Ed.2d 722 (2001)], the Supreme Court emphasized that its ruling in Hill [ , supra, 437 U.S. 153, 98 S.Ct. 2279], i.e. t......
  • 600 B.R. 368 (Bkrtcy.E.D.Mich. 2019), 18-56801, In re Basrah Custom Design, Inc.
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Bankruptcy Courts Sixth Circuit
    • May 21, 2019
    ...research study. § § 823(f), 841(a)(1), 844(a); see also Page 379 United States v. Oakland Cannabis Buyers’ Cooperative, 532 U.S. 483, 490, 121 S.Ct. 1711, 149 L.Ed.2d 722 (2001). Despite considerable efforts to reschedule marijuana, it remains a Schedule ......
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    • JD Supra United States
    • September 14, 2017
    ...21 C.F.R. § 1308.11; U.S. Const. art. VI, cl. 2; Gonzales v. Raich, 545 U.S. 1, 27, 29 (2005); U.S. v. Oakland Cannabis Buyers’ Coop., 532 U.S. 483, 491 (2001); In re JJ206, LLC, 120 U.S.P.Q.2d at 1571; In re Brown, 119 USPQ2d at [12] Supra notes 7-11. [13] See In re JJ206, LLC, dba JuJu Jo......
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    ...even for medical users (see Gonzales v. Raich, supra, 545 U.S. 1, 26-29; United States v. Oakland Cannabis Buyers’ Cooperative, supra, 532 U.S. 483, 491-495). Instead of attempting the impossible, as we shall explain, California’s voters merely exempted medical users and their primary careg......
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    ...21 C.F.R. § 1308.11; u.s. const. art. VI, cl. 2. 2; Gonzales v. Raich, 545 U.S. 1, 27, 29 (2005); U.S. v. Oakland Cannabis Buyers’ Coop., 532 U.S. 483, 491 (2001); In re JJ206, LLC, 120 U.S.P.Q.2d at 1571; In re Brown, 119 U.S.P.Q.2d at 1352). 12 Supra notes 7-11. 13 See In re JJ206, LLC, d......
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    ...Oregon and the THCF Medical Clinic rather than from some other source."). (220) See United States v. Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Coop., 532 U.S. 483, 491 (2001) (noting that "for purposes of the Controlled Substances Act, marijuana has 'no currently accepted medical use' at all"......
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    ...1086 (N.D. Cal. 1998), rev'd sub nom. United States v. Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Coop., 190 F.3d 1109 (9th Cir. 1999) (per curiam), rev'd, 532 U.S. 483 (2001). For a discussion of this case and its history on appeal, see infra text accompanying notes 72-76, 187-93. (22) Compassionate Use Act......
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    ...Title II focused on the distribution channels and was silent regarding defenses. Id. at 4569. [10] The Nat'l Org. for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) v. Bell, 488 F. Supp. 123, 126 (D. D.C. 1980). [11] H.R. REP. NO. 91-1444, at 4567. [12] Id. [13] The Controlled Substances Act, 21......
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    ...known as the Compassionate Use Act of 1996. Tr. 395-96; see also United States v. Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative (``OCBC''), 532 U.S. 483, Respondent's Application and Contentions Respondent is a Professor in the Department of Plant, Soil and Insect Sciences at the University of Massa......
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