Gonzales v. Raich

545 U.S. 1 (2005)

Quick Summary

Angel Raich and Diane Monson (plaintiffs) used medical marijuana legally under California law but faced federal enforcement actions against them. They challenged the application of the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) to their case.

The issue presented was whether Congress could prohibit their marijuana use under the Commerce Clause. The Supreme Court held that Congress had such authority because not regulating local, non-commercial use could affect interstate commerce.

Facts of the Case

In 1996, California enacted the Compassionate Use Act, legalizing medical marijuana for patients with serious health conditions. Angel Raich and Diane Monson (plaintiffs), both California residents, used medical marijuana legally under this state law, with Raich’s life potentially depending on it. Despite state authorization, federal agents seized and destroyed Monson’s marijuana plants.

This action by the federal government prompted Raich and Monson to challenge the enforcement of the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) as it applied to their use of marijuana in compliance with California law. The plaintiffs contended that the CSA’s application infringed upon state sovereignty and individual rights.

They argued that the federal government lacked the constitutional authority to regulate non-commercial, medical use of marijuana within a state. This case brought into question the balance of power between state-sanctioned medical use of marijuana and federal drug control policies.

Procedural Posture and History

  1. The District Court denied Raich and Monson’s motion for a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the CSA.
  2. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed, ruling the CSA’s application to the plaintiffs’ activities as unconstitutional under the Commerce Clause.
  3. The Attorney General appealed to the United States Supreme Court.

I.R.A.C. Format


Whether Congress has the authority under the Commerce Clause to prohibit the local cultivation and use of marijuana in compliance with California law.

Rule of Law

Congress has the power to regulate activities that substantially affect interstate commerce, including local activities that are part of an economic class of activities within federal power.

Reasoning and Analysis

The Supreme Court analyzed whether Congress’ regulation of local marijuana cultivation and use under the CSA was within its authority under the Commerce Clause. The Court referenced Wickard v. Filburn, which allowed regulation of local wheat production due to its impact on interstate commerce.

Similarly, it was reasoned that locally grown marijuana for medical purposes could affect the national market for marijuana, even if not directly part of commerce. The Court concluded that Congress had a rational basis for believing that failure to regulate intrastate cultivation and possession of marijuana would leave a significant gap in the federal regulatory scheme.

As such, even purely intrastate activity that is non-commercial can be regulated if it forms part of a larger class of activities that have a substantial impact on interstate commerce.


The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the Court of Appeals, holding that the CSA is a valid exercise of federal power as applied to the plaintiffs’ local cultivation and use of marijuana for medical purposes.

Dissenting Opinions

Justice O’Connor, joined by Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justice Thomas, dissented in part, arguing that the federal government’s power to regulate interstate commerce does not extend to non-commercial, intrastate activities. Justice Thomas also filed a separate dissenting opinion emphasizing limits on federal power.

Key Takeaways

  1. The Supreme Court reaffirmed Congress’ broad authority under the Commerce Clause to regulate economic activities with a substantial effect on interstate commerce.
  2. Local, non-commercial activities can be federally regulated if they are part of an aggregate class of activities that impact a national market.
  3. The case demonstrates the tension between state laws permitting medical marijuana and federal laws prohibiting it.

Relevant FAQs of this case

What are the limits of Congress's power under the Commerce Clause when it comes to non-commercial activities?

Congress’s power under the Commerce Clause extends to activities that, while non-commercial in an individual instance, have a cumulative impact on interstate commerce when taken in the aggregate. This concept asserts that individual actions, when combined with similar actions by others, could have a broader economic effect justifying federal oversight.

  • For example: A homeowner growing vegetables exclusively for personal consumption could theoretically affect interstate commerce if every homeowner did the same, potentially disrupting the national market for agricultural products.

How does federal law interact with conflicting state legislation in areas such as health and safety?

Federal law generally has supremacy over conflicting state law due to the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution. When a state enacts legislation on matters of health and safety that conflict with federal regulations, federal law will prevail, and state laws may be preempted and rendered unenforceable.

  • For example: If a state legalizes a substance prohibited by federal law, as was the case with marijuana under certain state laws, federal enforcement can still legally occur within that state’s borders.

In what ways can states challenge federal authority without violating constitutional principles?

States can challenge federal authority by enacting laws that test the boundaries of states’ rights versus federal powers or through litigation that seeks judicial clarification on the extent of federal power. They may also collaborate with other states or lobby Congress for changes in federal legislation.

  • For example: States have enacted ‘sanctuary’ policies limiting local cooperation with federal immigration enforcement as a form of challenging specific aspects of federal authority.


Last updated

Was this case brief helpful?

More Case Briefs in Constitutional Law