SAN FRANCISCO – A federal judge ruled Friday that a California medical marijuana distributor has no constitutional right to dole out cannabis to the sick.
The decision was another blow to the Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that the group had no right to sell marijuana to the sick under California's 1996 voter-approved medical marijuana law, which requires the sick to have a doctor's recommendation.
The cooperative had sought to reopen the 5-year-old case under new legal arguments, but U.S. District Judge Charles R. Breyer rejected them at the government's urging. At the same time, Breyer declined to lift an order barring the club from distributing cannabis.
"With or without medical authorization, the distribution of marijuana is illegal under federal law," Breyer wrote.
The decision, however, sets the stage for more litigation on the fate of California's medical marijuana law and similar ones in seven other states that allow the infirm to receive, possess, grow or smoke marijuana for medical purposes without fear of state prosecution.
The federal government, which declined to comment Friday, argues marijuana has no medical benefits and is an illegal drug.
Robert Raich, the club's attorney, said he would appeal the decision to the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The 9th Circuit earlier ruled in the case that the club could legally defend its actions on grounds it was helping the sick, who say marijuana gives them relief that lawful drugs cannot provide.
But the nation's high court reversed, saying the so-called "medical necessity defense" was at odds with a 1970 federal law that said marijuana, like heroin and LSD, has no medical benefits and cannot be dispensed or prescribed by doctors. That decision, however, opened the door to new legal challenges, which Breyer rejected Friday.
When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, Justice Clarence Thomas noted that some constitutional questions remained undecided.
Those included Congress' ability to interfere with intrastate commerce, the right of states to experiment with their own laws and whether Americans have a fundamental right to marijuana as an avenue to be free of pain.