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The current paper examines the Supreme Court Case United States v. Oakland Cannabis Buyers’ Cooperative (2001). All main case details are specified. The summary of this case is provided. The essence of Proposition 215 from California’s Compassionate Use Act is outlined as well as its different interpretations by the plaintiff and defendant. The influence of the Oakland Cooperative on the rights of patients is specified. The issue of medical necessity is examined. The decision and motivation of the US District Court is clarified.

The US Supreme Court’s decision is presented in detail. Its key elements as well as further implications are evaluated. Its approach regarding the distribution of marijuana and other controlled substances is outlined. The existing contradiction between the federal and state norms is analyzed. One of the Acts from California law allowed the distribution of marijuana while a large number of federal norms strictly prohibited it. The ways to solve this problem are examined. The US Supreme Court has outlined the key principles that may help dealing with such contradictions and determine the real state of affairs. The law enforcement practices and their development are examined.

The clear separation of objective facts from value judgments and subjective interpretations is presented. Value judgments may be used for a better understanding of people’s motivation, but they cannot be used as a basis for objective legal analysis. The overall role of this case for the US legal system is determined. The need for future improvements in this sphere is clearly stated.

Keywords: California’s Compassionate Use Act, federal norms, marijuana distribution.

1. Introduction of Case

a. Case number: 532 US 483 (2001)
b. Year heard and decided: 2001
c. Judges “for” the ruling: Thomas, Kennedy, Scalia, Rehnquist, and O’Connor
Judges “against” the ruling: Stevens, Ginsburg, and Souter
d. Plaintiff: The US government
Defendant: Oakland Cannabis Buyers’ Cooperative

2. Summary of Case

The origin of dispute refers to Proposition 215 from California’s Compassionate Use Act. The parties of this case interpreted it differently that led to different legal consequences. The defendant’s position was such that this Act made it legal for a patient to possess the necessary amount of marijuana if his/her physician recommends it. Therefore, the Oakland Cooperative claimed that all its actions were legal and were directly approved by California legal norms. The only difference of this cooperative from other market participants was such that it organized the entire process of marijuana supply on a larger scale and regular basis.

The US government suggested that these practices directly violated the rights of patients. Therefore, it forced the Cooperative to cease the distribution and cultivation of marijuana for any such purposes. According to the US government, any practices related to the controlled substances and marijuana should be prohibited. The US District Court supported the government position in 1998; however, a large number of unregulated issues remained (US Supreme Court Media, 2011). The Cooperative suggested that this decision was incorrect. Its representatives also claimed that it violated the rights of ordinary patients. Consequently, the Oakland Cooperative decided to violate the decision of the US District Court and continues its operations.

Facing this situation, the US government introduced new proceedings as a response to the Cooperative’s actions. The representatives of the Cooperative claimed that all their actions were legal and were influenced by the existing medical necessity.

However, the US judges did not agree with the interpretation of this situation as an example of medical necessity. At this moment, the Cooperative decided to cease its distribution of marijuana and further clarify the entire situation from a legal perspective.

Finally, the case was heard in the US Supreme Court in 2001. The majority opinion stated that the position of the Oakland Cooperative was incorrect, and it had no right to distribute marijuana on the basis of Proposition 215 from California’s Compassionate Use Act. The Court also claimed that there was no direct medical necessity in this case. Consequently, the representatives of the Cooperative violated the existing prohibitions in this area and should be correspondingly punished. The US Supreme Court also concluded that the California Act contradicted some federal norms and regulations. Therefore, it could not be used as a justification of the Cooperative’s actions.

The Supreme Court also demonstrated that some District Court’s decisions were incorrect. In particular, it was incorrect to base a legal decision on the value judgment expressed by Congress. Some conclusions about the absence of medical necessity were also unsupported. In general, the Supreme Court fully supported the position of the US government and claimed that the distribution of marijuana organized by the Cooperative was illegal. At the same time, the Court did not make any explicit recommendations about the necessary changes in California law.

3. Effects of Ruling towards Criminal Justice or Law Enforcement

This case has a considerable impact on the criminal justice system as well as law enforcement practices. The ruling has helped to apply the fundamental principles of federalism to the issue of marijuana distribution (Herman, 2002). First of all, this case demonstrates the general principles that may help to solve actual or potential conflicts between federal and state law. It seems that the main idea is not that federal law should be considered dominant in all cases but rather than both alternative positions should be evaluated. On this basis, the impact on other people’s rights should be evaluated.

Moreover, the case has shown that commercial companies should be more responsible and held additional responsibility regarding the distribution if the controlled substances. It is incorrect to justify these actions exclusively on the basis of some norms from the state law especially if they directly contradict other legal principles from the federal law. The actions of commercial companies especially if they are organized on a national scale should be examined from various perspectives. The justification of their actions should include explicit and objective legal facts rather than disputable claims of medical necessity.


In general, the issue of medical necessity was not finally resolved. On the one hand, the Cooperative’s claim about the existence of medical necessity was proved to be invalid. On the other hand, the District Court had no right to base its decision on the value judgments of Congress. It seems that the Supreme Court suggests that legal decisions should be objective, and value judgments should not influence them. It is the foundation of the democratic and just criminal system.

Another important consequence is additional requirements towards Congress’ statements. Congress should not introduce its value judgments and present them as objective truth. Moreover, it cannot serve as an element for subsequent judicial decisions (Josefson, 2001). In this context, the Supreme Court’s clear separation of objective facts and people’s rights from value judgments is especially important. It guarantees the protection of rights of those people whose actions are contradict to judges’ value judgments but are legal.

This case also indirectly shows a number of existing contradictions between the norms and principles adopted at the state and federal levels. These contradictions create additional problems for all parties involved. Commercial companies may experience difficulties in determining the most reliable source of judicial information or use unreliable sources for their business planning. Consumers may also be harmed as their main products may become inaccessible. Finally, the entire legal system may also be negatively affected because the system of commercial and non-commercial relationships between different members of society tends to become misbalanced.

Thus, law enforcement may be effectively organized only if all norms and regulations are formulated in a clear and precise way. All existing contradictions should be examined by the Supreme Court, and corresponding clarifications should be provided. The positions of all parties and the influence on the rights and liberties of third parties should be evaluated (Garvey, 2012). In general, this case has provided a system of potentially helpful approaches that may allow solving similar problems in the future in the most efficient way. Although the Supreme Court has not clarified all aspects of numerous interrelated issues, it has clearly specified the main legal principles that should be present in the ultimate solutions.

4. Conclusion

The case United States v. Oakland Cannabis Buyers’ Cooperative (2001) is one of the most influential legal cases in its field in the 21st century. The plaintiff in this case was the US government. It tried to prove that the actions of the defendant (in particular, in the field of marijuana distribution) were illegal. The defendant was the Oakland Cannabis Buyers’ Cooperative. It distributed marijuana and considered that its actions were legal and just as they were based on the corresponding Act of California law. In the process of examination, it was determined that some norms and regulation of the state and federal law contradicted one another.

The Supreme Court declared that the government position was correct, and the Cooperative should not distribute marijuana to patients. All defendants’ arguments were declared as being invalid because the existence of the medical necessity was not proved.

Moreover, the contradiction between the norms of the state and federal law was resolved in favor of the latter. The previous decisions of the District Court were also not completely correct from a legal point of view. Although it prohibited the distribution of marijuana by the Oakland Cannabis Buyers’ Cooperative, it was primarily motivated by value judgments expressed by Congress.

The Supreme Court explained that any value judgments cannot constitute the basis of any legal issues.

In general, the given case has provided a number of helpful clarifications in several respects. The need for a closer examination in the sphere of the controlled substances is outlined. Commercial companies should become more responsible in their actions, and they should evaluate all existing norms and regulations both at the state and federal levels. If the number of contradictions is reduced, it will be less problematic for District and other courts to correctly assess their actions. Therefore, the Supreme Court may concentrate on other issues.

In any case, value judgments should be strictly separated from the legal process. They may help to specify the motivation of parties, but they cannot be used as a determinant of their legal or illegal actions. In general, this case has contributed to a better understanding of various theoretical legal issues. It has also stressed the necessity to revise legal norms in a large number of states and make them corresponding to federal norms and regulations. Thus, this case has made a strong impact on the entire US legal system and its future development.

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