Skip to comments.Medical marijuana: The real stakes
Posted on 12/17/2004 9:12:14 AM PST by inquest
Ashcroft v. Raich, the Supreme Court's medical marijuana case, isn't really about medical marijuana. It's about power -- the power of Congress to exert control, and the power of the Constitution to rein Congress in.
The named plaintiff in this case is Angel McClary Raich, a California mother of two afflicted with an awful array of diseases, including tumors in her brain and uterus, asthma, severe weight loss, and endometriosis. To ease her symptoms, doctors put her on dozens of standard medications. When none of them helped, they prescribed marijuana. That did help -- so much so that Raich, who had been confined to a wheelchair, was again able to walk.
Raich's marijuana was supplied to her for free from two donors who grew it in California, using only California soil, water, and supplies. Under the state's Compassionate Use Act of 1996, which exempts the use of marijuana under a doctor's supervision from criminal sanction, all of this was perfectly legal.
But under the federal Controlled Substances Act of 1970, the possession of marijuana for any reason is illegal. The question for the court is which law should prevail in this case: state or federal?
Normally that wouldn't be an issue. Under the Constitution, a valid exercise of federal power trumps any conflicting state law. But is the application of the federal drug law to Raich a valid exercise of federal power? Does Congress have the right to criminalize the possession of minuscule amounts of marijuana, not bought on the illicit drug market, and used as medicine?
Americans often forget that the federal government was never intended to have limitless authority. Unlike the states, which have a broad "police power" to regulate public health, safety, and welfare, the national government has only the powers granted to it by the Constitution. Where does the Constitution empower Congress to bar pain-wracked patients from using the marijuana their doctors say they need?
According to the Bush administration, it says it in the Commerce Clause, which authorizes Congress to "regulate commerce . . . among the several states." And it is true that those words have long been treated as a broad grant of power allowing Congress to control almost anything it chooses.
The Supreme Court's most expansive reading of the Commerce Clause came in Wickard v. Filburn, a unanimous 1942 decision about a farmer who grew more wheat on his farm than was allowed under federal law. Roscoe Filburn argued that his excess wheat was none of Washington's business, since it all remained on his farm -- some of it he ground into flour, for his family, some he fed to his livestock, and some he planted the following year. None of it entered interstate commerce, so what right did Congress have to penalize it?
But a unanimous Supreme Court ruled against Filburn. It held that his 239 excess bushels of wheat affected the national wheat market whether he sold it or not, since wheat he produced for his own use was wheat he didn't have to buy elsewhere. If other farmers did the same thing, demand for wheat -- and its price -- would fall. That ruling threw the door open to virtually unbridled congressional activism. After all, if wheat that never left the farm it grew on was tied to "interstate commerce" and therefore subject to federal control, what wasn't? Not surprisingly, the years since Wickard have seen a vast expansion of federal authority.
Still, the Supreme Court has never actually held that congressional power under the Commerce Clause is unlimited. Twice in the past 10 years, in fact, it has struck down laws that could not be justified as commerce-related even under Wickard's hyperloose standard. But if the government gets its way in this case, the court really will have remade the Commerce Clause into a license to regulate anything. For unlike Filburn -- who was, after all, engaged in the business of running a farm and selling grain -- Raich is engaged in no commercial or economic activity of any kind. She is not buying or selling a thing. The marijuana she uses is not displacing any other marijuana.
But that point seemed lost on the court during last week's oral argument. "It looks like Wickard to me," Justice Antonin Scalia said. "I always used to laugh at Wickard, but that's what Wickard says."
Well, if Wickard says that Congress can ban or penalize Angel Raich's marijuana -- noncommercial, medically necessary, locally grown, and legal under state law -- then it says Congress can reach absolutely any activity at all. When I was a law student in the 1980s, I didn't laugh at Wickard, I was appalled by it. If Ashcroft v. Raich is decided for the government, future law students will have an even more appalling case to study.
LeRoy would be so proud. LeRoy you out there, what is your current screen name? Lost track of you after "No King but Jesus".
I was at the argument and there was quite a bit of discussion on the effect of this law on marijuana prices throughout the country. Also the California statute is so loosey-goosey. I think it's basically NORML at work.
1. Powers of the Federal Government - Delegated Powers
3. Powers shared by both - Concurrent Powers
It always winds up in some kind of flaming war.
MJ should be legal.
Drug prohibition is a ridiculous criminal joke that is destroying America.
Maybe its time to start thinking about a Constitutional convention as a way to rein in the Federal Government. The Supreme Court has rewritten much of the Constitution expanding the powers of the Federal government far beyond anything that is rational.
I'm really surprised the justice department is taking the approach that it has taken. This would be the perfect opportunity to lobby for Wickard to be limited.
rp and tl: pinging you to this thread to discuss the Wickard case, which is the basis of the "substantial effects" interpretation of the Commerce clause.
If the federal government had the power to prohibit sales of marijuana, then there would have been no need for the 18th amendment (which prohibits the sale of alcohol,and was repealed by the 21st amendment).
This is a slam dunk, really. No way the SC will go against the Feds on this one. On the bright side, it'll be fun watching all the "conservatives" bitch and moan about the newly restored Commerce Clause when it bites them in the backside somewhere down the road.
Once Ashcroft is gone maybe they will ease up. Too late for Chong though.
Drug prohibition is at its core a utopian social-engineering agenda that contradicts a fundamental reality of human nature. We've had 30+ years of the so-called "War on Drugs" and "illegal" drugs are more plentiful than ever, despite the fact that there are 500,000+ prisoners in the U.S. in jail for drug "crimes".
Memo to Drug War-supporting conservatives: utopian social-engineering agendas are the stock-in-trade of the socialist left, and are eternally doomed to failure. Even ex-Drug Czar Barry McCaffery once admitted that we would never be able to "jail our way out of the drug problem". It's time to admit that the best solution is the market solution: legalize, tax, and regulate, get the federal government out of the drug prohibition enforcement business, and leave regulation up to the states like it is for alcohol and tobacco.
The arguments are mainly against "smoked" marijuana for medical purposes.
To reduce the intraocular pressure caused by glaucoma, it would require smoking 10 joints/day, every day. But any form of marijuana for glaucoma, however, is contraindicated due to its negative effect on the optic nerve.
No major medical association supports smoked marijuana for medical reasons. None.
One other little ditty for you. 99% of medical marijuana patients (in a California survey) were already smoking marijuana for their "condition" prior to seeing a doctor. Their doctors were not recommending marijuana -- they were simply authorizing it.
The "condition" in 2 out of 3 cases? Pain.
First, I think you mean "legalize" not "decriminalize". Decriminalization means that marijuana is still illegal, but the offense is reduced to a civil misdemeanor with usually a small fine. Some states have decriminalized.
You're looking to turn the legalization decision over to the states and leaving the federal government out of it (unless, as you say, it crosses our borders or state lines).
The 21st amendment, Section 2, did exactly that for alcohol. I would suggest that we get a similar amendment for drugs if we want to go down that path.
Hey, this conservative is pulling for Raich, because I understand that it will also affect the Stewart case, which involves homemade NFA firearms.