Medicinal marijuana setback at the Supreme Court

Medicinal marijuana gots its day in court, and the Supreme Court has decided that if you cultivate it in your home, for personal medical use as proscribed by a doctor, that its still illegal, even if you’re in a state where it’s legal.

The logic here is fascinating, even if in some case tortured, and worthy of a few minutes of your attention.       

The medicinal marijuana proponents argued that because cultivating marijuana for personal medical consumption is specifically legal in California, and because at no time does this process ever leave the state of California, that the Federal government has absolutely no say in the matter and that they can’t intervene.  Since no state lines were crossed, this doesn’t trigger the Interstate Commerce clause of the US Constitution, which gives the Feds rights to regulate anything that happens when it crosses state lines for commercial purposes.  However in a capitalist society, anything is commercial, so basically any time something you do crosses state lines, federal courts and Congress can claim jurisdiction because of the Commerce clause.

(The Commerce clause basically means that everything that happens on the Internet can potentially be Federal, since so much of what happens there is inter-state.)

The Federal government’s position was that the drug laws extend into the state’s internal activities, and aren’t constrained by the Commerce clause.  One might imagine a civil rights advocate making a similar argument against a poll tax in a repressive Southern state.

The Supreme Court, which issued their decision in Gonzalez v Raich today, sided with the feds.  The 6-3 decision used a 1942 decision (Wickard v Filburn) that regulated the amount of wheat an individual could grow on their own small commercial farm.  In that case, the Court concluded that because extra wheat grown for personal consumption beyond the limit of what was allowed might have an impact on wheat supply and demand in Interstate commerce, and that was enough of a justification to allow the Feds to intervene.

In the text of the marijuana decision, the Court consciously glossed over a number of differences between the wheat case and the marijuana case, while still using the Wickard wheat case as a basis for their decision, including:

  • the fact that the plaintiff in the wheat case was a small commercial agribusiness and the law in question in that case exempted small commercial farms.
  • the fact that the marijuana was not being grown for sale, and
  • the fact that it’s unlikely that the amount of marijuana grown for personal medically-proscribed consumption will have any bearing on the supply, demand, and pricing of the interstate marijuana black market.

However most disappointing was a quote from Justice Stevens suggesting that even in an era when the ruling party claims to endorse state’s rights:

even more important than these legal avenues is the democratic process,
in which the voices of voters allied with these (California women) may
one day be heard in the halls of Congress."

I have to say I found this decision very disappointing.  The argument of the majority seemed to be chosen for political expediency, and to avoid the high court’s responsibility of mitigating a conflict between the wishes of the voters in a state, and federal policy, a conflict the Supreme Court is in fact charged with mitigating.

If you’re a really big nerd, you can read the decision yourself.