The Supreme Court Has Ruled That You’re Allowed to Ingest Any Drug, Especially If You’re An Addict

Another chapter from my book 50 Things You’re Not Supposed to Know, published in 2003.

For more on me, check out: The Memory Hole.

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Supreme SealIn the early 1920s, Dr. Linder was convicted of selling one morphine tablet and three cocaine tablets to a patient who was addicted to narcotics. The Supreme Court overturned the conviction, declaring that providing an addicted patient with a fairly small amount of drugs is an acceptable medical practice “when designed temporarily to alleviate an addict’s pains.” (Linder v. United States.)

In 1962, the Court heard the case of a man who had been sent to the clink under a California state law that made being an addict a criminal offense. Once again, the verdict was tossed out, with the Supremes saying that punishing an addict for being an addict is cruel and unusual and, thus, unconstitutional. (Robinson v. California.)

Six years later, the Supreme Court reaffirmed these principles in Powell v. Texas. A man who was arrested for being drunk in public said that, because he was an alcoholic, he couldn’t help it. He invoked the Robinson decision as precedent. The Court upheld his conviction because it had been based on an action (being wasted in public), not on the general condition of his addiction to booze. Justice White supported this decision, yet for different reasons than the others. In his concurring opinion, he expanded Robinson:

If it cannot be a crime to have an irresistible compulsion to use narcotics … I do not see how it can constitutionally be a crime to yield to such a compulsion. Punishing an addict for using drugs convicts for addiction under a different name. Distinguishing between the two crimes is like forbidding criminal conviction for being sick with flu or epilepsy, but permitting punishment for running a fever or having a convulsion. Unless Robinson is to be abandoned, the use of narcotics by an addict must be beyond the reach of the criminal law. Similarly, the chronic alcoholic with an irresistible urge to consume alcohol should not be punishable for drinking or for being drunk.

Commenting on these cases, Superior Court Judge James P. Gray, an outspoken critic of drug prohibition, has recently written:

What difference is there between alcohol and any other dangerous and sometimes addictive drug? The primary difference is that one is legal while the others are not. And the U.S. Supreme Court has said as much on at least two occasions, finding both in 1925 and 1962 that to punish a person for the disease of drug addiction violated the Constitution’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. If that is true, why do we continue to prosecute addicted people for taking these drugs, when it would be unconstitutional to prosecute them for their addiction?

Judge Gray gets right to the heart of the matter: “In effect, this ‘forgotten precedent’ says that one can only be constitutionally punishable for one’s conduct, such as assaults, burglary, and driving under the influence, and not simply for what one puts into one’s own body.”

If only the Supreme Court and the rest of the justice/law-enforcement complex would apply these decisions, we’d be living in a saner society.

References: Gray, Judge James P. Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed and What We Can Do About It: A Judicial Indictment of the War on Drugs. Temple University Press, 2001. • Linder v. United States, 925. No. 183. U.S. Supreme Court 268 U.S. 5 (1925). • Robinson v. California. SCT.1193, 370 U.S. 660, 82 S. Ct. 1417, 8 L. Ed. 2d 758 (1962). • Powell v. Texas, 392 U.S. 514 (1968) (USSC).

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Look for more 50 Things You’re Not Supposed to Know under the tag “50 Things” on disinfo.com.

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  • Hot Karl

    It's going to take a lot of time to get marijuana legalized, and all the anti-drug people are going to feel like assholes when nothing bad happens. At least I wish they would, they're obviously too fucking dumb to know when they're wrong so why would they admit that they were later? Idiots run this country.

  • brian

    If these cases already exist then isnt there precedence set that says you can legally take the drugs? shouldnt that hold as a defense in court against a drug abuse charge?

    • Phil E. Drifter

      It would, if more people knew about these cases and these precedents.

      • Hadrian999

        it would be probably be taken as seriously as using the sovereign citizen defense

  • HotPead

    So, if I understand this right, it would not be illegal to smoke marijuana but to smoke it you would have to actually possess the marijuana which would be illegal?….sounds fucking retarded to me.

    • hotpead2

      You can't be an addict for weed so you aren't covered by the precedent set by these cases. sry

      • Phil E. Drifter

        I'm torn on this one. No, cannabis is not physically addictive; there is no withdrawal when suddenly being unable to smoke more. Yes, it is depressing to know you don't have any more weed to smoke, though.

        http://i269.photobucket.com/albums/jj48/phillyd

        • dumbsaint

          Weed is addictive in the same manner that gambling is. There's no bodily addiction, though, ultimately any physical withdrawal from a substance is the easy part. It's straightforward enough to bear with pain or horrible sickness, another matter entirely to rewire your brain.

          inb4 some pothead tries to argue; I've beaten smack and cigarettes yet still struggle to go for any length of time without weed. Spend any amount of time in rehab and you'll meet cats that honestly struggle with it.

    • Phil E. Drifter

      If anyone refused to accept the plea bargain offered by their public defender (which doesn't, they will basically twist your arm into taking the plea bargain so he can get on to his next case as quickly as possible) and cited these precedents (buying a small amount of drugs to cover addiction (The Supreme Court overturned the conviction, declaring that providing an addicted patient with a fairly small amount of drugs is an acceptable medical practice “when designed temporarily to alleviate an addict’s pains.” (Linder v. United States.)) and Distinguishing between the two crimes is like forbidding criminal conviction for being sick with flu or epilepsy, but permitting punishment for running a fever or having a convulsion….

  • Recovering

    First of all I am a law student and a recovering drug addict…

    A cursory overview of these cases reveals the following:

    Linder, 268 U.S. 5 (1925). The action was enforced under the Harrison act, which seems to be enacted using the Fed. taxing power. It was pretty much overruled when the Control Substances Act was enacted using the Commerce Clause (power to regulate interstate commerce broaded by the Court in the thirties in response to FDR's court packing scheme).

    The other cases don't allow for ingesting of drugs only the condition of being a drug addict or alcoholic. BIG DIFFERENCE! The obsessive/compulsive condition known as addiction is just that.. a condition.. ingesting drugs is but a symptom of that condition, which also includes finds ways and means to get more.. ect…

    While I agree that drug addicts should be treated rather than thrown in prison to rot… We don't have a lot of options for those not seeking help! You can't force someone to get help you can only create a condition that would make them want to get help.. ie. prison, punishment…

    The effects of addiction have played havoc to the rest of the populus.. crime related to the seemingly illogical condition known as addiction continue to plague and have plagued us.. even when there was little regulation… It is a difficult question..

  • The Dude

    Sigh. I would start by focusing on the word “Disinformation.” m-w.com defines it thusly: “false information deliberately and often covertly spread (as by the planting of rumors) in order to influence public opinion or obscure the truth.” Apt.
    The author here does a cute job of setting a neat little path by which to confuse the reader:
    -First, the Robinson case deals with addiction, not possession or use. The guy was stopped by the police for having track marks, and arrested when he admitted that he used illicit substances at times. He didn't have any drugs. They arrested him for being addicted to drugs.
    -Second, a concurring opinion seldom expands anything. By definition, it means the concurring justice didn't quite agree with the remaining majority. No one joined his concurrence (i.e., no one agreed with him). This is not a precedent setting situation.
    -Third, the slide from Supreme Court to Superior Court dicta happens quickly, but hides a rather sharp contrast. while I believe the honorable Judge Gray is, in fact, an incredibly honest and honorable man. His views are wonderful. However, citing his thoughts as controlling would be equivalent to referring to your high school physics teacher's disagreement regarding Einstein's theory of relativity. Judge Gray is a great man; this is exactly why no one listens to him.

    This country has long been hypnotized to believe that certain things are evil. Back in the Reefer Madness days, they would continually associate the hemp plant with vileness. Therefore, given the social context of the time, in which Mexicans were seen as a terrifying culture that could invade our streets and befoul our children, they changed the name to mirror the Mexican name, marihuana or mariguana, so that they could associate with the Mexicans. This country was founded on hemp. But all of a sudden, it's something “those Mexicans” are bringing over. Sick, no? Amazingly, the wonders of the internet (in my opinion) have raised awareness regarding the fantastic medicinal and personal benefits of use. If you look at polls, you will be amazed by the amount of people who support legalization. Just remember though, lobbyists mean so much more than people.

    The time will come. Things will be made right. But until then, don't mislead our friends. Agreed?

    Be smart. Stay safe.

  • timada

    This is a very informative article! Great job! Thank you!

    • darrenmclard

      I am sorry to hear that you had needed specialized help to get over your addiction. I am working in a Washington drug rehab center and reading this article I remember that 2 years ago a cocaine pill had calm down a patient that had hurt 2 nurses. He was a special case and was brought to the center by the police. This practice is legal but is not to be used. Patients are allowed to be given small amounts of drugs in order to calm them down and save a potentially dangerous moment.

  • Puppet_Micha

    That's interesting. I didn't know that there was a time when people were rational about this. I've struggled in and out of those 12 step rehab programs and they just didn't do it for me. I realized it's a lifetime's work and it's all in your mind.

  • Anonymous

    I am sorry to hear that you had needed specialized help to get over your addiction. I am working in a Washington drug rehab center and reading this article I remember that 2 years ago a cocaine pill had calm down a patient that had hurt 2 nurses. He was a special case and was brought to the center by the police. This practice is legal but is not to be used. Patients are allowed to be given small amounts of drugs in order to calm them down and save a potentially dangerous moment.

  • Literatishohin

    OK story, but the spin put on the title is only for attention getting, sensationalistic and not backed up by the text.

  • Literatishohin

    OK story, but the spin put on the title is only for attention getting, sensationalistic and not backed up by the text.

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    Luckily, I’m not an addict:P

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  • seobook00

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  • Anonymous

    Hashish is actually pure resin. Producing hashish requires the separation of the resin from the flowering tops by drying and cooling the plant.After that, the plant is filtered. The small resin grains fall through the sieve, which can be repeated several times. It is then crushed into powder, by hand or with the help of a press. The oil that comes free causes the powder to stick. It is then molded into a brown slice. That is called hashish.
    Hashish Addiction