Friday, October 5, 2007

2005 - Federal Crackdown on Medical Marijuana

Gonzalez, Attorney General, et al. v. Raich et al.

Argued: November 29, 2004

Decided: June 6, 2005

I was researching the legal history of medical marijuana legislation when I came across a very important Supreme Court case. This post is based off of the Supreme Court syllabus in Gonzalez vs. Raich.

On June 6, 2005 the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in favor of Gonzalez (the Attorney General) that the United States Federal Government can prosecute medical marijuana users. To be more precise, it ruled that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 (CSA), had the authority to prevent citizens from using medical marijuana despite state law. Angel Raich had been authorized by the state of California to grow marijuana under the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 which gives specific individuals the right to use the plant for medical purposes if other medicines prove to be ineffective. According to the case syllabus, Raich and co-defendant Diane Monson claimed that enforcement of the CSA against them was a "violation of the 5th, 9th, and 10th amendments, the Commerce Clause, and the doctrine of medical necessity."

This case raises very obvious issues regarding states rights. The federal government is prosecuting individuals who are acting lawfully according to state law. Normally a decision like this would be controversial on that token alone, but marijuana is a far more sensitive issue. From the federal government’s perspective, California law was undermining its current War on Drugs. California lawmakers, on the other hand, view DEA involvement as an infringement on their right to decide what is acceptable for their citizens. The Supreme Court Justices were well aware of all of this when they ruled in favor of Gonzales.

Since it was passed, Gonzalez vs. Raich has had a significant effect. Countless medical marijuana distributors and users have been affected. This is why the decision is so monumental. When those six justices ruled in favor of Gonzalez and the federal government, the medical marijuana controversy entered a new era, a time where gravely sick users of the plant would have to worry about being persecuted.

I don’t know whether the federal government or the states should have jurisdiction in matters like these, but I do know where I personally stand. If a state like California has decided that marijuana use will benefit these sick individuals and the users themselves attest to its benefits, the federal government should not intervene and say otherwise unless it has proof that it doesn’t. The War on Drugs has spanned several administrations and the philosophy behind it is outdated. Clearly if the states have decided there might be a medical benefit to marijuana, it cannot qualify under the Schedule 1 categorization. In the end, prosecuting users before the debate is settled only puts at risk those who are already in the most vulnerable position of all.


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