Drug War

SCOTUS Declines to Review Appeals Court Decision Upholding California's Medical Marijuana Law*


Whoops: As a reader was kind enough to point out, although the piece I was sent is dated December 6, 2011, this is actually a three-year-old news story, one that obviously escaped my memory.

Yesterday* the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review a California appeals court ruling that said the state's medical marijuana laws are not pre-empted by the federal Controlled Substances Act. The case involved a patient, Felix Kha, whose marijuana was confiscated by Garden Grove police in 2005. An Orange County Superior Court judge ordered the police to return Kha's marijuana, noting that he had a doctor's recommendation and was therefore complying with state law. The city challenged that decision, and in 2007 California's 4th District Court of Appeal upheld it, rejecting the city's argument that the federal ban on marijuana overrides state laws allowing medical use of the drug. The court ruled that "federal law does not preclude the return of Kha's marijuana" and that "under the Tenth Amendment, state courts cannot be compelled to implement federal drug laws." Last March* the California Supreme Court declined to hear the city's appeal of that ruling, and now* so has the U.S. Supreme Court.

That leaves the legal situation as I described it in the October issue of Reason: While the Court has held, based on a ridiculously broad reading of the Commerce Clause, that Congress has the authority to stop patients from growing and possessing marijuana for their own medical use, even when such use is allowed by state law, it has never held that states are obligated to ban what Congress bans or punish what Congress punishes. Such a ruling would render states mere subsidiaries of the national government, forced to mimic its laws and policies, thereby obliterating what remains of the federalist system established by the Constitution. Fortunately, the Court does not seem ready to go that far.

There remains the question of whether federal law bars state or local goverrnments from formally authorizing, as opposed to merely decriminalizing, production and distribution of medical marijuana. Two months ago, California's 2nd District Court of Appeal said it does and therefore overturned Long Beach's licensing system for medical marijuana dispensaries. Although that decision still allows local governments to regulate dispensaries, it has created uncertainties that will have to be resolved by the California Supreme Court.

Previous coverage of the Kha case here.

*see correction above

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  1. I hope the DEA is on hand, hiding in the bushes, ready to pounce when the transfer of marijuana takes place. Otherwise my faith in the system will be shaken to the core.

    1. I doubt the DEA even took note of the decision. Today will be business as usual in the WoD for them (and for the myriad CA police departments that will continue to help the feds in enforcing bullshit drug laws just so they can play with their shiny toys and crack some dopers’ heads).

      1. The city has to return the mary jane, no? When that happens, the feds need to step in and arrest everyone for dealing and possessing a Schedule I controlled substance.

  2. Hey L.A. You are rewarding new dispensaries that are not even registered. To compete..registered legal dispensaries are lured into criminal activity,i.e. getting product from baldies.

  3. So, are they gonna give his weed back finally? Does he even want it back at this point? Where’s the money quote from Kha, “It’s been nearly seven years, I’ve gone through many bags of weed since then, so, ya know what keep it. And then take a step back and literally fuck your own face.”

    1. It probably went missing bit by bit from the evidence locker.

  4. So where does this leave us? Does this strike some of the federal law?

    1. No laws were injured in the making of this decision.

      Basically, I think it means the local po-po can “exercise their discretion” to ignore state law and enforce federal law, if that’s what gives them a chubby.

      Let freedom ring, baby!

      1. I think you misread – the CA Supreme Court and US Supreme Court refused to overturn a judge’s order that the cops must return the MJ. Essentially this is a good development, hinting that it is not the duty of state agents to enforce federal law if the local and state laws are in conflict with federal law, and the “criminal” is in compliance with state/local law. Local/state agents enforce local/state laws, federal agents enforce federal laws. Still, they should have heard the case and used it to fix the conflict once and for all.

  5. So SCOTUS dropped back and punted. Pansies.

    1. Yeah, but it was like 4th & 13 from their own 32.

      1. Or put so PantsFan can understand: 3rd and 21 from their own 53.

    2. I think the appellate procedure is such that a court doesn’t review a decision unless it feels it has to.

  6. I’d like to think that somewhere there’s a gaggle of drug warriors crying into their coffee about a day that will live in infamy or something.

  7. …it has never held that states are obligated to ban what Congress bans or punish what Congress punishes. Such a ruling would render states mere subsidiaries of the national government, forced to mimic its laws and policies,…

    So does this mean states need not punish a failure to purchase health insurance? Would that, in turn, enable some creative state legislation to draft laws making it legal to not purchase health insurance in a way that avoided an equivalent federal tax on said lack of action…say by granting every citizen a federally tax exempt state bond that would shelter an equivalent amount of federal taxable income from collection and, thus, screw the feds? Just spit balling.

  8. Is this really a new decision or an old one somehow being recycled? When I follow the link above it leads me to a link which then says: Today’s U.S. Supreme Court Order denying review:http://AmericansForSafeAccess.org/downloads/Kha_USSC.pdf. When you click on that it is the same old Kha decision from December 2008.

  9. Everyone, this story and the SCOTUS action is three years old.

    1. This is worse than being rickrolled.

  10. Ouch. Twice in so many days…In all fairness Jacob I think your late articles are better then the timely ones written by other reason staff.

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