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