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Supreme Court's Medical Marijuana Ruling
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Reason  (magazine)

Medical Marijuana Madness

 

 

By Nick Gillespie | Aug 1, 2005

 

June's U.S. Supreme Court ruling against medical marijuana was widely expected, but that makes the decision no more defensible from a legal or moral perspective.

Writing for the 6-3 majority in Gonzales v. Raich , the 85-year-old liberal Justice John Paul Stevens solemnly counseled patients suffering chronic pain and other illnesses to turn to “the democratic process” for comfort. Perhaps, he mused with the confidence and compassion of a jurist who has one foot firmly planted in the grave, “the voices of voters allied with [respondents Angel Raich and Diane Monson] may one day be heard in the halls of Congress.”

While we wait for Congress to pass a medical marijuana bill, we can listen to the howls of anguish from people such as Raich and Monson, who suffer from a brain tumor and a degenerative spinal disease, respectively. Both smoke pot to dull their pain and keep their appetites up. They live in California, which in 1996 passed a ballot initiative approving medical marijuana by a vote of 56 percent to 44 percent (how's that for a “democratic process”?). Three years ago, they sought an injunction to prevent the Drug Enforcement Administration from confiscating their marijuana or arresting them.

The Court ruled that the Constitution's Commerce Clause, which gives Congress the power to “regulate Commerce…among the several states,” authorizes the federal government to pluck medicine from the hands of patients like Raich and Monson. The majority claimed, among other things, that even small amounts of homegrown pot used solely for medical purposes could make it impossible for federal law enforcement agencies to police illegal drugs.

In a dissent joined by Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justice Clarence Thomas, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor noted that the government “has not overcome empirical doubt that the number of Californians engaged in personal cultivation, possession, and use of medical marijuana, or the amount of marijuana they produce, is enough to threaten the federal regime.” As important, cultivation and possession of marijuana for one's own medical use is not commerce as we normally understand the term or as the Framers understood it. In a separate dissent, Thomas argued more broadly that “if Congress can regulate [medical marijuana] under the Commerce Clause, then it can regulate virtually anything—and the Federal Government is no longer one of limited and enumerated powers.” It's an outrage that such viewpoints failed to carry the day.

If the legal reasoning behind the Raich decision is murky, the moral impact of the decision is crystal clear. The Court has turned sick people into criminals—even in the 10 states where voters have used the democratic process to legalize medical marijuana. As Diane Monson told the press, “I'm going to have to be prepared to be arrested.”

In “A Menace to Society” (page 56), Reason 's resident cartoonist Peter Bagge chronicles the legal plight of medical marijuana user Roger Spohn. Created before the Raich ruling, the piece is only more powerful—and disturbing—in its wake.

 

 

The growing of marijuana is not a economic activity, and thus is not subject to the commerce cause of our constitution.  The ruling is one more example of how our constitution is a fašade (disregarded when inconvenient).  The clause permits only regulation of trade between states.  That distinction was lost in 1942, when local milk production was subjected to federal farm regulations.  (President Roosevelt threatened to obtain his majority by adding more justices to the court, instead the court ruled in favor of his farm regulations).  What’s so wrong about states retaining the right to regulate local activities, a right given by our constitution?  The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals saw it that way, but not our Supreme Court who overturned their ruling.  Eleven states have passed laws permitting the medicinal use of marijuana--jk

In 2000, Americans bought about $10.5 billion worth of marijuana from drug dealers, according to an estimate by the Office of National Drug Control Policy.  Last year (03), the FBI recorded 755,286 marijuana arrest—Nov. 26, 2004 USA Today, Richard Willing.  That is a lot more disrupted lives than caused by our Middle-Eastern War. 

 

CONSTITUTIONAL LAW--jk

 

This is a clear violation of our Constitution which permits only regulation of commerce between states.  Under the Roosevelt administration a farm bill was passed which regulated the price of milk.  Such regulation was to protect the farmer from a dip in the price below the level at which it was profitable to run a dairy farm.  Such dips in price—in part a result of the great depression—bankrupted a significant percentage of farmers.  Legislation was needed to protect our food supply.  The Democrats wanted to apply these regulation not just to commerce between states, but also within states.  The court was poised to overturn this application of the control of milk prices.  Roosevelt threatened to expand the number of justices on the Supreme Court.  The Court then shifted its position.  A common-sense reading of our constitution does not support such regulation.  By extension it does not support the regulations of drugs within a state.  Doesn’t each state have the wisdom to regulate commerce within their border and pass their own drug laws?  I think so—jk.

 

Pro pot organization reports on Supreme Court ruling, plus links to ruling. 

http://mpp.org/raich/

On June 6, 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6 to 3 that the federal government can continue arresting patients who use medical marijuana legally under their state laws. However, the court did not overturn state medical marijuana laws or in any way interfere with their continued operation.

At issue in Gonzales v. Raich was whether the federal government has the constitutional authority to arrest and prosecute patients who are using medical marijuana in compliance with state laws.

In its ruling, the Supreme Court indicated that Congress—not the Court—must be the institution to change federal law to protect medical marijuana patients from arrest.

What the court has done is continue the status quo: Patients in the 10 states with medical marijuana laws are protected under state law but will continue to risk prosecution under federal law. In other words, the court's decision means that nothing has changed.

But it also means that—since it's now clear that patients cannot count on the federal courts for protection—the ball is now firmly in Congress' court, which means that we must push harder than ever for Congress to change federal law.

Gonzales v. Raich Does Not Affect States' Ability to Pass Medical Marijuana Laws

Gonzales v. Raich does not affect states' ability to pass medical marijuana law—and it does not overturn the laws now protecting the right of 57 million Americans living in Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington to use medical marijuana legally under state laws.

The issue in the Raich case was whether the federal government has the power, under the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, to arrest, make seizures, and prosecute individuals for purely intrastate activities related to the use of marijuana in accordance with state law. The question of whether a state may make the possession of marijuana legal for medical purposes was not at issue. Under fundamental doctrines of federalism, it is and will continue to be completely within the power of a state to enact laws immunizing medical marijuana patients and their providers from arrest, seizure, and prosecution by state and local officials.

The decision simply confirms what has always been true about state medical marijuana provisions: that the federal government has the authority—but not the obligation—under federal law to arrest, prosecute, and seize marijuana from medical marijuana patients and providers even when they are acting in compliance with state law. This does not, however, affect the states' authority to enact and carry out medical marijuana laws; it just means that patients and providers following these laws could be arrested and prosecuted and have their marijuana seized by federal law enforcement officials. And not only does the case not affect state laws, but state laws will need to be passed regardless of the outcome of the case.

It also is important to note that this case was initiated by medical marijuana patients and caregivers in California who sought an injunction preventing the federal government from arresting them and seizing their property. The federal government has not challenged the validity or constitutionality of the state medical marijuana laws.

In sum, medical marijuana advocates are no worse off than before the litigation was launched—medical marijuana is legal under certain state laws but not under federal law.

 

Background on Gonzales v. Raich

The U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Gonzales v. Raich (formerly known as Ashcroft v. Raich)—that the federal government can continue arresting patients who use medical marijuana legally under their state laws—stems from a case it heard in December 2004. At issue was whether the federal government has the constitutional authority to prohibit patients in medical marijuana states from using and/or growing marijuana that is not commercial in nature and which therefore does not involve interstate commerce.

The case was first launched in October 2002, when two medical marijuana patients—Angel Raich and Diane Monson—and two caregivers filed a motion asking a federal court to forbid the DEA from arresting them under federal law. They argued that their home use and cultivation of medical marijuana, which are legal under California state law, aren't commercial in nature and do not involve interstate commerce—and so therefore the federal government does not have the constitutional authority to prohibit what they're doing.

The U.S. district court in northern California ruled against Raich in March 2003, but then the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed and ruled in favor of Raich in December 2003, shocking the nation. As a result of the Ninth Circuit ruling, Raich, Monson, and patients in similar circumstances were legally allowed to use medical marijuana under both state and federal law in Alaska, California, Hawaii, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington (seven of the 10 medical marijuana states) until the date of the Supreme Court's ruling.

The Bush administration appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that the two patients and their caregivers -- who are growing and using medical marijuana within California, using California seeds, California soil, California water, and California equipment – are somehow engaged in "interstate commerce." The administration also argued that Congress has found no accepted medical use of marijuana and that state medical marijuana protections detract from the fight against drug trafficking.

On June 6, 2005, the Supreme Court ruled 6 to 3 that the federal government can continue arresting patients who use medical marijuana legally under their state laws. However, the court did not overturn state medical marijuana laws or in any way interfere with their continued operation.

Justice O'Connor wrote the principal dissent, joined by Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justice Thomas. Justice Thomas wrote a separate dissent. In her dissent, Justice O'Connor said that states should be allowed to set their own rules. "The states' core police powers have always included authority to define criminal law and to protect the health, safety, and welfare of their citizens," said O'Connor, who added that -- while she would have opposed California's medical marijuana law if she were a voter or a legislator -- the court should respect the states' "own conclusions about the difficult and sensitive question of whether marijuana should be available to relieve pain and suffering."

"Diane Monson and Angel Raich use marijuana that has never been bought or sold, that has never crossed state lines, and that has no demonstrable effect on the national market for marijuana," Justice Thomas wrote in his separate dissent. "If Congress can regulate this under the commerce clause, then it can regulate virtually anything - and the federal government is no longer one of limited and enumerated powers." Thomas said the ruling was so broad "the federal government may now regulate quilting bees, clothes drives and potluck suppers throughout the 50 states."

Download the Supreme Court's decision here.

Download a transcript of the oral arguments during the hearing before the Supreme Court here.

Download the brief filed by MPP and the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies here.

Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi—conservative states that do not have laws protecting medical marijuana patients from arrest—filed briefs arguing that the federal government should stay out of state business.

 

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