Medical Pot in the Dock


The United States Supreme Court hears arguments today in Raich v. Ashcroft, a case with potentially massive implications for the drug war, federalism, and the outrageous abuse of the Constitution's commerce clause. Some details from an Arizona Republic story:

Since 1996, California and 11 other states have passed laws that ease or eliminate sanctions for the medicinal use of pot. But the federal government says it still has the right to prosecute Raich and patients like her because federal law considers pot a harmful drug without proven medical benefits….

Today, in a lawsuit brought by [39-year-old medical marijuana user Angel] Raich and another patient, the U.S. Supreme Court takes up a question that a growing number of medical marijuana users say is critical to their physical well-being and that the federal government says is important to its war against illegal drugs: When it comes to pot and patients, does federal or state law rule?…

"I understand that my case brings up an interesting point of law that fascinates judges and lawyers," Raich says. "But for me, it's a matter of life and death. With cannabis, I can play with my kids, walk without a wheelchair, sometimes even get a few hours' sleep at night. Without it, I couldn't go on for very long."

Whole thing here.

Here's hoping that Raich wins, that federalism wins, and that Congress' expansive reading of the commerce clause loses.

Reason's Jacob Sullum looked at some of the issues at stake in his column here.

NEXT: Commerce Clause Use and Abuse

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  1. “here’s to hoping… that Congress’ expansive reading of the commerce clause loses.”

    Unfortunately that won’t be the case.

  2. Let’s get this going as a corollary argument:
    Are not taxpayers at the state and local levels throwing money away on salaries for state and local politicians if they are so powerless?

  3. I hate to say it, but the only thing that will happen here is the setting of an unfortunate precedent.

  4. I’ve got my fingers crossed and a fatty rolled.

  5. “I hate to say it, but the only thing that will happen here is the setting of an unfortunate precedent.”

    We’ll see…

  6. I hate to say it, but the only thing that will happen here is the setting of an unfortunate precedent.

    exactly, mr mark. why would the imperial judiciary concede the massive power the distortion of the commerce clause accords them and their bretheren over in the executive? such a ruling is unthinkable. if anything, the court is likely to give a ringing affirmation of the boundlessness of federal power to invade the affairs of any state or person.

  7. Gaius, do you read newspapers at all?

    Violence Against Women Act? Suits against states under ADA? Does any of this ring a bell?

    You’ve got a great little narrative going there. Whatever you do, don’t let any facts interfere with it.

  8. If we take away the federal government’s power to regulate personal behavior, the next thing you know men and dogs will be having sex in public!

  9. It’s my understanding that the Court has a third option–they can bypass the Commerce Clause issue entirely and rule that the conduct at issue does not constitute “drug trafficking” under the statute involved.

  10. While I’m a big fan of Federalism, I note that the fans of Federalism on this court are also anti-drug. I wonder how US v. Lopez would have came down if it were the Drug Free School Zone violation instead of the Gun Free School Zone one.

  11. you don’t actually think the supreme court is going to come down *against* the war on drugs here, do you?

  12. One issue that’s very blurry, as the story is reported by the dimwits in the mainstream press, is exactly what they mean when they say the feds accuse state medpot laws of “conflicting with” federal law.

    It is one thing to say that federal drug laws are constitutional under the commerce clause, and that the feds will continue to enforce them despite the decriminalization of medpot under state law. It is another thing entirely to say that federal law requires the states to enforce it, so that state laws that remove anti-medpot enforcement from state and local police jurisidiction are unconstitutional.

    If the Justice Department actually seeks to overturn medpot laws as unconstitutional, so that the states must actually criminalize any activity that’s illegal under federal law and cooperate with federal law enforcement, that’s pretty horrifying.

    It’s hard to believe the Justice Department would be attempting to overturn state drug decriminalization, given the amount of precedent against federal cooptation of state governments. But given Asscrack’s mentality, I wouldn’t rule it out.

    On the other hand, if state laws are allowed to stand that simply refuse to punish pot-prescribing physicians under the aegis of state law, then they still do serious damage to the federal drug war. It means the feds have to bear the entire financial and administrative burden of enforcing their own laws, instead of relying on “interjurisdictional task forces.”

  13. I like Kevin’s suggestion. California’s pot laws would not shield patients from prosecution, but it would mean that every morning a sympathetic district attorney, sheriff or police chief could deposit a bunch of cancer patients in front of the nearest FBI or DEA field office and announce that California law doesn’t permit him to hold them. “Here, you deal with this! Oh, and don’t forget that the colon cancer patient just got out of surgery and needs his colostomy bag changed every so many hours, and a few of them tend to vomit uncontrollably due to chemotherapy. Have a nice day!”

    My understanding is that there’s at least one county in northern California where the DA is a member of the LP, and the sheriff is also skeptical of the War on Drugs. They endorsed Judge Jim Gray. Maybe they could do this.

  14. Now Ashcroft is out. What about the new guy? Know anything about him other than his stance on torturing dudes? Where does he stand on federalism?

  15. If a DA or police chief did what thoreau suggests, under the Geneva Convention it would not be torture to ship the DA off to Gitmo and ram a glowstick up his ass.

    Don’t cross the feds!

  16. Violence Against Women Act? Suits against states under ADA? Does any of this ring a bell?

    lol — mr joe, i think you’re confusing “noise” with “signal” — which is to be expected, if you “read newspapers“, whose essential function is to amplify noise into something that seems like signal.

    thanks for the props on the narrative, though. 🙂

  17. “Medical Pot in the Dock”
    At least we’re still free to put dock in the pot. It’s an edible, wild leafy plant. Haven’t tried it, but I assume it’s similar to dandelion or poke.

    (I was a Euell Gibbons groupie.)

  18. What a looney!

    I suppose that someone who gets his news through ferociously partisan internet sites might be able to convince himself that nothing significant has happened in commerce clause jurisprudence in the past four years.

    Can’t trust the New York Times to report the news fairly! Better go to National Review Online and Drudge! lol

  19. mr joe — what makes you think i do anything but laugh at nro? not everyone who disagrees with you is a nutbag republican, you know.

    fwiw, i imagine your pov coincides with this, and you can believe what you like.

    but do you imagine that four years and a couple cases materially reverses 75 years of encroachment of federal power? that strikes me strange. or perhaps you’ve forgotten that there was a time when something as innocuous as the nlrb was perceived to be unconstitutional by most law scholars — and fdr had to despotically threaten to destroy the court by packing it with cronies to get his way?

    it saddens me that so feweven among the knowledgeable seem to understand how far our crusade for personal emancipation/irresonsibility has taken us in that time.

  20. End the Drug War! Hmmm, I wonder if that is Jennifer?

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