Justices Uphold Federal Marijuana Prosecution

Justices Uphold Federal Marijuana Prosecution
Posted by CN Staff on June 06, 2005 at 20:47:31 PT
By Linda Greenhouse
Source: New York Times
Washington, D.C. -- The Supreme Court today upheld the power of Congress to prohibit and prosecute the possession and use of marijuana for medical purposes, even in the 11 states that permit it.Case Arguments The 6-to-3 decision, a firm reassertion of federal authority, revealed a deep fissure within the coalition that over the past decade has provided the majority for a series of decisions curbing Congressional power and elevating the role of the states within the federal system. Two members of that coalition, Justices Anthony M. Kennedy and Antonin Scalia, voted this time to uphold federal authority.
The decision overturned a 2003 ruling by a federal appeals court that had shielded California's Compassionate Use Act, the medical-marijuana initiative adopted by the state's voters nine years ago, from the reach of federal drug enforcement. The appeals court had held that Congress lacked constitutional authority to regulate the noncommercial cultivation and use of marijuana that does not cross state lines.But "the regulation is squarely within Congress's commerce power," Justice John Paul Stevens said for the majority today. He added that the court's precedents had clearly established "Congress's power to regulate purely local activities that are part of an economic 'class of activities' that have a substantial effect on interstate commerce."The decision, Gonzales v. Raich, No. 03-1454, was not necessarily the last word on medical marijuana, either from the courts or from other branches of government. Under the terms of the opinion, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, will now consider other challenges to the application of federal drug law, including an argument made by the two patients who brought the case that depriving them of what they say is the only drug that eases their suffering from a variety of painful conditions amounts to a violation of their constitutional right to due process.Because the two women, Angel McClary Raich and Diane Monson, prevailed in the Ninth Circuit on their Commerce Clause argument, the appeals court did not address the other issues they raised.In addition, Justice Stevens, noting that "perhaps even more important than these legal avenues is the democratic process," suggested that the executive branch might reclassify marijuana for medical purposes or that Congress might take up the matter.The first option appeared quite unlikely, given the response by John Walters, the Bush administration's "drug czar," whose official title is Director of National Drug Control Policy. "To date, science and research have not determined that smoking a crude plant is safe or effective," his official statement said. "We have a responsibility as a civilized society to ensure that the medicine Americans receive from their doctors is effective, safe and free from the pro-drug politics that are being promoted in America under the guise of medicine."On the legislative front, the House of Representatives is to vote next week on an appropriations amendment that would prohibit the Justice Department from spending money to enforce federal drug laws against patients using marijuana for medical purposes. While the amendment failed last year, 19 Republicans voted for it. It was not brought to a vote in the Senate.Advocates for medical marijuana, meanwhile, stressed that the state laws remain in effect and that the prospect of federal enforcement was fairly remote. Allen Hopper, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union's Drug Law Reform Project, noted that the federal government handles only about one percent of marijuana prosecutions.Mrs. Raich, one of the plaintiffs, speaking with her husband and lawyers in a conference call for reporters, said she would continue to use the marijuana that was prescribed by her doctor and is grown for her by friends. "I don't have a choice but to continue, because if I stopped I would die," she said. She suffers from a wasting syndrome, among other ailments, and said that only marijuana gives her sufficient appetite to eat enough to maintain her weight.The opinion by Justice Stevens was joined by his allies in many recent battles over federalism, Justices David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Stephen G. Breyer, and by Justice Kennedy, who did not provide an explanation for his vote. Case Arguments Justice Scalia, by contrast, explained himself at length. He did not sign the majority opinion, instead offering a separate concurring opinion that was no less definite in its support for federal authority."Where necessary to make a regulation of interstate commerce effective, Congress may regulate even those intrastate activities that do not themselves substantially affect interstate commerce," Justice Scalia said. He cited a number of the court's opinions from the early 1940's, after the Supreme Court rallied to support the New Deal and gave Congress a degree of power over national affairs that was not seriously challenged until the Rehnquist Court began invalidating federal laws in the mid-1990's.Chief Justice Rehnquist himself was one of the dissenters today, although he did not write an opinion. He and Justice Clarence Thomas joined a dissenting opinion by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, and Justice Thomas also wrote a separate dissenting opinion.As a prime mover of the court's federalism revolution, Justice O'Connor did not hide her dismay. The court's opinion provided a road map to "removing meaningful limits on the Commerce Clause," she said, and "threatens to sweep all of productive human activity into federal regulatory reach."Justice O'Connor said that while she would not have voted for California's medical marijuana initiative and did not support it as public policy, it represented the kind of innovation and "experiment" that came within the latitude that the Constitution permits to the states. "The states' core police powers have always included authority to define criminal law and to protect the health, safety, and welfare of their citizens," she said, adding that "whatever the wisdom of California's experiment with medical marijuana, the federalism principles that have driven our Commerce Clause cases require that room for experiment be protected in this case."Justice Thomas said that "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."The sharpest dispute between the two sides was over the meaning of two of the foundational decisions of the Rehnquist Court's approach to federalism. Both struck down federal laws, the Gun-Free School Zones Act and the Violence Against Women Act, on the ground that they exceeded Congressional authority, and both were decided by five-member majorities that included Justices Kennedy and Scalia.While Justice O'Connor declared that the marijuana decision was "irreconcilable" with the earlier ones, Justice Scalia disagreed. Neither of the earlier decisions "involved the power of Congress to exert control over intrastate activities in connection with a more comprehensive scheme of regulation" comparable to federal drug laws, he said.In addition to California, the states that permit the use of marijuana for medical purposes are Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, and Vermont.Complete Title: Justices Uphold Federal Medical-Marijuana ProsecutionsSource: New York Times (NY)Author:  Linda GreenhousePublished: June 6, 2005Copyright: 2005 The New York Times Company Contact: letters Website: Related Articles & Web Site:Angel Raich v. Ashcroft News Defeat For Users Of Medical Marijuana Law Trumps State Approval of Pot of MMJ Says She'll Continue To Fight
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Comment #2 posted by Max Flowers on June 06, 2005 at 21:50:33 PT
Good morning, sunshine!
Justice Thomas said that "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."Nice to have you awake, Justice Thomas! The federal government has for quite a while now not been a government of limited and enumerated powers. It has been running amok and doing whatever it pleases for quite some time. But we're glad that at least you and a couple of your colleagues are becoming aware of what is happening to our country...
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Comment #1 posted by The GCW on June 06, 2005 at 20:51:22 PT
Vote here Should the federal government prosecute medical marijuana users, now that it has been given the OK by the Supreme Court? * 69575 responses Yes 
10% No 
88% I'm not sure 
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