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WEBB v. U. S. , 249 U.S. 96 (1919)

U.S. Supreme Court

WEBB v. U. S. , 249 U.S. 96 (1919)

249 U.S. 96

WEBB et al.
No. 370.

Argued Jan. 16, 1919.
Decided March 3, 1919.

Messrs. Ralph Davis and Ike W. Crabtree, both of Memphis, Tenn., for Webb and another. [249 U.S. 96, 97]   Mr. Assistant Attorney General Porter, for the United States.

Mr. Justice DAY delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case involves the provisions of the Harrison Narcotic Drug Act ( Act Dec. 17, 1914, c. 1, 38 Stat. 785; Comp. St. 6287g-6287q), considered in United States v. Doremus (No. 367, just decided: 249 U.S. 86 , 39 Sup. Ct. 214. The case comes here upon a certificate from the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. From the certificate it appears that Webb and Goldbaum were convicted and sentenced in the District Court of the United States for the Western District of Tennessee on a charge of conspiracy (section 37, Penal Code [Act March 4, 1909, c. 321, 35 Stat. 1096; Comp. St. 10201]) to violate the Harrison Narcotic Law. While the certificate states that the indictment is inartificial, it is certified to be sufficient to support a prosecution upon the theory that Webb and Goldbaum intended to have the latter violate the law by using the order blanks (section 1 of the act) for a prohibited purpose.

The certificate states:

Upon these facts the Circuit Court of Appeals propounds to this court three questions:

1. 'Does the first sentence of section 2 of the Harrison Act prohibit retail sales of morphine by druggists to persons who have no physician's prescription, who have no order blank therefor and who cannot obtain an order blank because not of the class to which such blanks are allowed to be issued?'

2. 'If the answer to question one is in the affirmative, does this construction make unconstitutional the prohibition of such sale?'

3. 'If a practicing and registered physician issues an order for morphine to an habitual user thereof, the order not being issued by him in the course of professional treatment in the attempted cure of the habit, but being issued for the purpose of providing the user with morphine sufficient to keep him comfortable by maintaining his customary use, is such order a physician's prescription under exception (b) of section 2?'

What we have said of the construction and purpose of the act in No. 367 plainly requires that question one should be answered in the affirmative. Question two should be answered in the negative for the reasons stated in the opinion in No. 367. As to question three-to call such an order for the use of morphine a physician's prescription would be so plain a perversion of meaning that [249 U.S. 96, 100]   no discussion of the subject is required. That question should be answered in the negative.

Answers directed accordingly.

For the reasons which prevented him from assenting in No. 367, the Chief Justice also dissents in this case.

Mr. Justice McKENNA, Mr. Justice VAN DEVANTER, and Mr. Justice McREYNOLDS concur in the dissent.

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