US v Oakland Buys Cooperative, 2001
The U.S. Department of Justice filed a civil suit in January 1998 to close six medical marijuana
distribution centers in northern California. A U.S. district court judge issued a temporary
injunction to close the centers, pending the outcome of the case. The Oakland Cannabis Buyers’
Cooperative fought the injunction but was eventually forced to cease operations and appealed to
the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. At issue was whether a medical marijuana distributor can use
a medical necessity defense against federal marijuana distribution charges.54
The Ninth Circuit’s decision in September 1999 found, 3-0, that medical necessity is a valid
defense against federal marijuana trafficking charges if a trial court finds that the patients to
whom the marijuana was distributed are seriously ill, face imminent harm without marijuana, and
have no effective legal alternatives.55 The Justice Department appealed to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court held, 8-0, that “a medical necessity exception for marijuana is at odds with
the terms of the Controlled Substances Act” because “its provisions leave no doubt that the
defense is unavailable.”56 This decision had no effect on state medical marijuana laws, which
continued to protect patients and primary caregivers from arrest by state and local law
enforcement agents in the states with medical marijuana programs.
Legal Documents for the case can be found at http://www.druglibrary.org/ocbc/default.htm.