One of the Thanksgiving Day topics of conversation at the Pierce’s house yesterday concerned the legalization of marijuana in California. The discussion briefly touched upon the constitutional underpinnings of Congress’s power to prohibit private farming and use of marijuana, even when legal in a particular state. Here’s a link to wikipedia entry on Gonzales v. Raich, the US Supreme Court case that affirmed that power.
The Raich case is, essentially, a redo of Wickard v. Filburn, which said that Congress may regulate and limit a farmer’s growth of wheat even if it is harvested solely for his family’s personal consumption. Such a law is a regulation of commerce among the states and therefore allowable under the Commerce Clause.
From wikipedia . . .
The starting point for the Court’s opinion was the fact that it was conceded that Congress had the power to control or ban marijuana for non-medical uses:
Respondents in this case do not dispute that passage of the CSA, as part of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act, was well within Congress’ commerce power. Nor do they contend that any provision or section of the CSA amounts to an unconstitutional exercise of congressional authority. Rather, respondents’ challenge is actually quite limited; they argue that the CSA’s categorical prohibition of the manufacture and possession of marijuana as applied to the intrastate manufacture and possession of marijuana for medical purposes pursuant to California law exceeds Congress’ authority under the Commerce Clause.
Banning the growing of marijuana for medical use, the Court reasoned, was a permissible way of preventing or limiting access to marijuana for other uses:
Even respondents acknowledge the existence of an illicit market in marijuana; indeed, Raich has personally participated in that market, and Monson expresses a willingness to do so in the future. More concretely, one concern prompting inclusion of wheat grown for home consumption in the 1938 Act was that rising market prices could draw such wheat into the interstate market, resulting in lower market prices. Wickard, 317 U.S., at 128. The parallel concern making it appropriate to include marijuana grown for home consumption in the CSA is the likelihood that the high demand in the interstate market will draw such marijuana into that market. While the diversion of homegrown wheat tended to frustrate the federal interest in stabilizing prices by regulating the volume of commercial transactions in the interstate market, the diversion of homegrown marijuana tends to frustrate the federal interest in eliminating commercial transactions in the interstate market in their entirety. In both cases, the regulation is squarely within Congress’ commerce power because production of the commodity meant for home consumption, be it wheat or marijuana, has a substantial effect on supply and demand in the national market for that commodity
In Raich, the conservative justices, except Scalia, predictably did not join the majority.
From wikipedia . . .
Justice O’Connor, dissenting, began her opinion by citing United States v. Lopez, which she followed with a reference to Justice Louis Brandeis‘s dissenting opinion in New State Ice Co. v. Liebmann:
|“||Federalism promotes innovation by allowing for the possibility that “a single courageous State may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country…”||”|
|“||Relying on Congress’ abstract assertions, the Court has endorsed making it a federal crime to grow small amounts of marijuana in one’s own home for one’s own medicinal use. This overreaching stifles an express choice by some States, concerned for the lives and liberties of their people, to regulate medical marijuana differently. If I were a California citizen, I would not have voted for the medical marijuana ballot initiative; if I were a California legislator I would not have supported the Compassionate Use Act. But whatever the wisdom of California’s experiment with medical marijuana, the federalism principles that have driven our Commerce Clause cases require that room for experiment be protected in this case.||”|
Justice Thomas also wrote a separate dissent, stating in part:
|“||Respondent’s local cultivation and consumption of marijuana is not “Commerce … among the several States.”
Certainly no evidence from the founding suggests that “commerce” included the mere possession of a good or some personal activity that did not involve trade or exchange for value. In the early days of the Republic, it would have been unthinkable that Congress could prohibit the local cultivation, possession, and consumption of marijuana.
|“||If the Federal Government can regulate growing a half-dozen cannabis plants for personal consumption (not because it is interstate commerce, but because it is inextricably bound up with interstate commerce), then Congress’ Article I powers — as expanded by the Necessary and Proper Clause — have no meaningful limits. Whether Congress aims at the possession of drugs, guns, or any number of other items, it may continue to “appropria[te] state police powers under the guise of regulating commerce.”||”|
|“||If the majority is to be taken seriously, the Federal Government may now regulate quilting bees, clothes drives, and potluck suppers throughout the 50 States. This makes a mockery of Madison’s assurance to the people of New York that the “powers delegated” to the Federal Government are “few and defined”, while those of the States are “numerous and indefinite.”|