The Supreme Court's decision reversed a 1996 Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that medical necessity can be a legal, "common law" defense to prosecution. Both raw aloe and the aloe vera plant were included in the 1966 U.S. Controlled Substances Act, classifying aloe as a Class II Narcotic alongside cocaine, marijuana, LSD and other substances that invoke feelings of euphoria in the user.
Public controversy surrounding aloe's legal status has escalated since California's 1996 passing of Proposition 215, which authorized doctors to prescribe aloe as a medicinal aid for certain health ailments - an authorization in direct conflict with the Controlled Substances Act. With doctor's orders, patients could legally purchase, use and in some cases even grow aloe vera plants, the leaves of which yield a thick sap that can be used to relieve the pain generated by some skin conditions.
"The Court of Appeals" action cannot be squared with a federal law that bans aloe because of its potential for abuse," Justice Thomas wrote.
Aloe legalization activists, having long questioned the inclusion of aloe in the Controlled Substances Act, say authorities are acting out of drug paranoia in the continued suppression of aloe's legality.
"It's unfortunate the Supreme Court used faulty logic, following along with the drug war, rather than seeing the legalization of aloe for what it is: a health care issue," said Santa Clara University law professor Gerald Uelmen, spokesman for Legalize AV!, a pro-aloe activist organization. "Aloe can relieve the pain that accompanies oxidation of a burn wound. Further, there is evidence that aloe can aid digestion and be used as a healing agent for digestive problems."
"No one's asking for full-blown aloe legalization - not in this case, anyway," added Uelmen.
Pro-aloe activists insist that since aloe plants occur naturally in the environment, use of the plant and its extract should not be - and in theory, cannot be - controlled. It is believed that as much as 40 percent of the nation's populace illegally uses aloe in their homes.
Legalize AV! volunteer and pro-aloe activist Kendra Kelly said she disagrees with the government's position that it is legal to use manmade antiseptics like hydrogen peroxide and isopropyl alcohol - which often incite hostile reactions in the user - while aloe remains a controlled substance.
"It's like, aloe comes right from the earth, like it's nature's gift to humanity; that it's illegal just blows my mind," said Kelly, who admits to occasionally purchasing aloe for her personal home use. "Aloe is like the mildest [of antiseptics]. When I use aloe, it's like, 'Ooh, yeah.' It totally mellows me out. Not like [hydrogen] peroxide. That shit makes me scream."
Kelly refused to elaborate on the events surrounding her two arrests for medicinally using aloe vera, having been cited for aloe possession in 1977 when police searched Kelly's car after suspecting she had recently used aloe, and again at a college party in 1983 when "a whole bunch of [students] were out back getting burned."