Gonzales v. Raich

Decision Date06 June 2005
Docket NumberNo. 03-1454.,03-1454.
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

California's Compassionate Use Act authorizes limited marijuana use for medicinal purposes. Respondents Raich and Monson are California residents who both use doctor-recommended marijuana for serious medical conditions. After federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents seized and destroyed all six of Monson's cannabis plants, respondents brought this action seeking injunctive and declaratory relief prohibiting the enforcement of the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) to the extent it prevents them from possessing, obtaining, or manufacturing cannabis for their personal medical use. Respondents claim that enforcing the CSA against them would violate the Commerce Clause and other constitutional provisions. The District Court denied respondents' motion for a preliminary injunction, but the Ninth Circuit reversed, finding that they had demonstrated a strong likelihood of success on the claim that the CSA is an unconstitutional exercise of Congress' Commerce Clause authority as applied to the intrastate, noncommercial cultivation and possession of cannabis for personal medical purposes as recommended by a patient's physician pursuant to valid California state law. The court relied heavily on United States v. Lopez, 514 U. S. 549, and United States v. Morrison, 529 U. S. 598, to hold that this separate class of purely local activities was beyond the reach of federal power.

Held: Congress' Commerce Clause authority includes the power to prohibit the local cultivation and use of marijuana in compliance with California law. Pp. 10-33.

(a) For the purposes of consolidating various drug laws into a comprehensive statute, providing meaningful regulation over legitimate sources of drugs to prevent diversion into illegal channels, and strengthening law enforcement tools against international and interstate drug trafficking, Congress enacted the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970, Title II of which is the CSA. To effectuate the statutory goals, Congress devised a closed regulatory system making it unlawful to manufacture, distribute, dispense, or possess any controlled substance except as authorized by the CSA. 21 U. S. C. §§ 841(a)(1), 844(a). All controlled substances are classified into five schedules, § 812, based on their accepted medical uses, their potential for abuse, and their psychological and physical effects on the body, §§ 811, 812. Marijuana is classified as a Schedule I substance, § 812(c), based on its high potential for abuse, no accepted medical use, and no accepted safety for use in medically supervised treatment, § 812(b)(1). This classification renders the manufacture, distribution, or possession of marijuana a criminal offense. §§ 841(a)(1), 844(a). Pp. 10-15.

(b) Congress' power to regulate purely local activities that are part of an economic "class of activities" that have a substantial effect on interstate commerce is firmly established. See, e. g., Perez v. United States, 402 U. S. 146, 151. If Congress decides that the "`total incidence'" of a practice poses a threat to a national market, it may regulate the entire class. See, e. g., id., at 154-155. Of particular relevance here is Wickard v. Filburn, 317 U. S. 111, 127-128, where, in rejecting the appellee farmer's contention that Congress' admitted power to regulate the production of wheat for commerce did not authorize federal regulation of wheat production intended wholly for the appellee's own consumption, the Court established that Congress can regulate purely intrastate activity that is not itself "commercial," i. e., not produced for sale, if it concludes that failure to regulate that class of activity would undercut the regulation of the interstate market in that commodity. The similarities between this case and Wickard are striking. In both cases, the regulation is squarely within Congress' commerce power because production of the commodity meant for home consumption, be it wheat or marijuana, has a substantial effect on supply and demand in the national market for that commodity. In assessing the scope of Congress' Commerce Clause authority, the Court need not determine whether respondents' activities, taken in the aggregate, substantially affect interstate commerce in fact, but only whether a "rational basis" exists for so concluding. E. g., Lopez, 514 U. S., at 557. Given the enforcement difficulties that attend distinguishing between marijuana cultivated locally and marijuana grown elsewhere, 21 U. S. C. § 801(5), and concerns about diversion into illicit channels, the Court has no difficulty concluding that Congress had a rational basis for believing that failure to regulate the intrastate manufacture and possession of marijuana would leave a gaping hole in the CSA. Pp. 15-22.

(c) Respondents' heavy reliance on Lopez and Morrison overlooks the larger context of modern-era Commerce Clause jurisprudence preserved by those cases, while also reading those cases far too broadly. The statutory challenges at issue there were markedly different from the challenge here. Respondents ask the Court to excise individual applications of a concededly valid comprehensive statutory scheme. In contrast, in both Lopez and Morrison, the parties asserted that a particular statute or provision fell outside Congress' commerce power in its entirety. This distinction is pivotal for the Court has often reiterated that "[w]here the class of activities is regulated and that class is within the reach of federal power, the courts have no power `to excise, as trivial, individual instances' of the class." Perez, 402 U. S., at 154. Moreover, the Court emphasized that the laws at issue in Lopez and Morrison had nothing to do with "commerce" or any sort of economic enterprise. See Lopez, 514 U. S., at 561; Morrison, 529 U. S., at 610. In contrast, the CSA regulates quintessentially economic activities: the production, distribution, and consumption of commodities for which there is an established, and lucrative, interstate market. Prohibiting the intrastate possession or manufacture of an article of commerce is a rational means of regulating commerce in that product. The Ninth Circuit cast doubt on the CSA's constitutionality by isolating a distinct class of activities that it held to be beyond the reach of federal power: the intrastate, noncommercial cultivation, possession, and use of marijuana for personal medical purposes on the advice of a physician and in accordance with state law. However, Congress clearly acted rationally in determining that this subdivided class of activities is an essential part of the larger regulatory scheme. The case comes down to the claim that a locally cultivated product that is used domestically rather than sold on the open market is not subject to federal regulation. Given the CSA's findings and the undisputed magnitude of the commercial market for marijuana, Wickard and its progeny foreclose that claim. Pp. 23-33.

352 F. 3d 1222, vacated and remanded.

STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which KENNEDY, SOUTER, GINSBURG, and BREYER, JJ., joined. SCALIA, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 33. O'CONNOR, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which REHNQUIST, C. J., and THOMAS, J., joined as to all but Part III, post, p. 42. THOMAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 57.


Acting Solicitor General Clement argued the cause for petitioners. With him on the briefs were Assistant Attorney General Keisler, Deputy Solicitor General Kneedler, Lisa S. Blatt, Mark B. Stern, Alisa B. Klein, and Mark T. Quinlivan.

Randy E. Barnett argued the cause for respondents. With him on the brief were Robert A. Long, Jr., Heidi C. Doerhoff, Robert A. Raich, and David M. Michael.*

JUSTICE STEVENS delivered the opinion of the Court.

California is one of at least nine States that authorize the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.1 The question presented in this case is whether the power vested in Congress by Article I, § 8, of the Constitution "[t]o make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution" its authority to "regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States" includes the power to prohibit the local cultivation and use of marijuana in compliance with California law.


California has been a pioneer in the regulation of marijuana. In 1913, California was one of the first States to prohibit the sale and possession of marijuana,2 and at the end of the century, California became the first State to authorize limited use of the drug for medicinal purposes. In 1996, California voters passed Proposition 215, now codified as the Compassionate Use Act of 1996.3 The proposition was designed to ensure that "seriously ill" residents of the State have access to marijuana for medical purposes, and to encourage Federal and State Governments to take steps toward ensuring the safe and affordable distribution of the drug to patients in need.4 The Act creates an exemption from criminal prosecution for physicians,5 as well as for patients and primary caregivers who possess or cultivate marijuana for medicinal purposes with the recommendation or approval of a physician.6 A "primary caregiver" is a person who has consistently assumed responsibility for the housing, health, or safety of the patient.7

Respondents Angel Raich and Diane Monson are California residents who suffer from a variety of serious medical conditions and have sought to avail themselves of medical marijuana pursuant to the terms of the Compassionate Use Act. They are being treated by licensed, board-certified family practitioners, who have concluded, after prescribing a host of conventional medicines to treat respon...

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