The case was brought by Angel Raich, an Oakland mother of two who suffers from scoliosis, a brain tumor, chronic nausea and other ailments. On her doctor's advice, she eats or smokes marijuana every couple of hours to ease her pain and bolster a nonexistent appetite. Conventional drugs did not work, she said.
This is a major setback for the medical marijuana movement, CBS News correspondent Barry Bagnato reports. This particular federal court has been more sympathetic than others when it comes to considering whether pot can be used to relieve pain or even save lives.
Nearly two years ago, however, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Raich, finding that the Constitution's Commerce Clause clearly gives the federal government the right to restrict the cultivation and use of marijuana, even if state laws — like those in California — allow it.
Because of that ruling, the issue before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was narrowed to the so-called right to life theory: that the gravely ill have a right to marijuana to keep them alive when legal drugs fail.
Raich, 41, began sobbing when she was told of the decision and said she would continue using the drug.
"I'm sure not going to let them kill me," she said. "Oh my God."
The government has said it could not guarantee that Raich or other seriously ill patients using medical marijuana would not be prosecuted. Over the years, the government has raided dozens of medical marijuana dispensaries, mostly in California.
The case is likely to reach the U.S. Supreme Court. But each time the high court has taken up the issue of medical marijuana, it has ruled against allowing the sick and dying to use the drug.
The latest legal wrangling once again highlighted the tension between the federal government, which declares marijuana an illegal controlled substance with no medical value, and the 11 states allowing medical marijuana for patients with a doctor's recommendation.
Voters in 1996 made California the first state to authorize patients to use marijuana with a doctor's recommendation. At least 10 other states followed suit.