U.S. Supreme Court Hears Case Regarding California’s Medical Marijuana Law
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday heard oral arguments in a case regarding a California law that allows the use of marijuana for medical purposes by patients with chronic illnesses, including HIV/AIDS and cancer, USA Today reports (Willing, USA Today, 11/30). Thirty-five states have enacted legislation recognizing marijuana's medicinal value, and California, Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington have laws permitting the use of medical marijuana (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 11/3). In the case heard Monday -- Ashcroft v. Raich -- the Supreme Court will decide whether the federal government has the authority to regulate interstate commerce to seize homegrown marijuana that is considered illegal under federal law but legal under state law, according to the Los Angeles Times (Savage, Los Angeles Times, 11/30). Two critically ill California women -- Angel Raich and Diane Monson -- brought the case (USA Today, 11/30).
Although the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the California women were engaged in noncommercial intrastate activity, which Congress does not have the power to regulate, acting Solicitor General Paul Clement on Monday argued that illegal drugs exist within a national market, according to the New York Times. "What we're talking about here is the possession, manufacture and distribution of a valuable commodity for which there is, unfortunately, a ready market," Clement said (Greenhouse, New York Times, 11/30). However, Randy Barnett, a Boston University law professor representing the California women, said that the women are "not buying or selling" the drug and thus their activity was beyond the reach of the federal government's power to regulate interstate commerce (Los Angeles Times, 11/30).
Justices Appear 'Skeptical'
Some justices during oral arguments on Monday appeared "skeptical" that medical marijuana is always a "noneconomic enterprise" and separate from the illegal market for the drug, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. The court "appeared unlikely" to rule in favor of shielding medical marijuana from federal drug laws, with five justices seeming to side against the California women and two justices who appeared "harder to predict," the Inquirer reports. Justice Stephen Breyer said that states may have "acted too quickly" to allow medical marijuana, according to the Inquirer. Breyer suggested that the "proper channel" for changing the status of medical marijuana is through FDA, which could remove the drug from its list of controlled substances, according to the Inquirer. "They never went to the FDA to try to get marijuana rescheduled," Breyer said, asking, "So how can we take for a fact that medical marijuana actually exists?" (Henderson, Philadelphia Inquirer, 11/30). Breyer said, "Medicine by regulation is better than medicine by referendum," adding, "I have to take this case on the assumption that there is no such thing as medical marijuana that is special and beneficial" (Lane, Washington Post, 11/30). However, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said that the California women have a good case on "federalism" grounds, according to the Los Angeles Times. "As I understand it, none of this homegrown marijuana will be on any interstate market," O'Connor said, adding, "And it is in the area of something traditionally regulated by states. This limited exception (to the drug laws) is a noneconomic use -- growing for personal use." It will be several months before the Supreme Court rules in the case, according to the Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles Times, 11/30).
Several broadcast programs reported on the medical marijuana case:
- ABCNews' "World News Tonight": The segment includes comments from Raich and Calvina Fay, executive director of the Drug Free America Foundation (Medrano, "World News Tonight," ABCNews, 11/29).
- CBS' "Evening News": The segment includes comments from Raich and Barnett (Andrews, "Evening News," CBS, 11/29). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.
- CNN's "Crossfire": Guests on the program included David Evans, director of the Drug-Free Schools Coalition, and Steve Fox of the Marijuana Policy Project (Begala/Novak, "Crossfire," CNN, 11/29). The complete transcript is available online.
- CNN's "Paula Zahn Now": Guests on the program included Barnett and Fay (Zahn, "Paula Zahn Now," CNN, 11/29). The complete transcript is available online.
- NPR's "All Things Considered": The segment includes comments from Robert DuPont, former director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse; Monson; and Raich (Totenberg, "All Things Considered," NPR, 11/29). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.
- NPR's "All Things Considered": The segment includes an interview with Marsha Cohen, a professor at the University of California's Hastings College of the Law (Block, "All Things Considered," NPR, 11/29). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.
- NPR's "Talk of the Nation": The program will include a discussion of the concept of states' rights, which is "currently a front line" for the medical use of marijuana (Conan, "Talk of the Nation," NPR, 11/30). The complete segment will be available online in RealPlayer after the broadcast.
- PBS' "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer": The segment includes comments from Jan Crawford Greenburg, Supreme Court reporter for the Chicago Tribune; Monson; Raich; Robert Raich, an attorney for the medical marijuana users; and Joseph Russoniello, former U.S. attorney for northern California during the 1980s (Ifill/Michels, "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer," PBS, 11/29). The complete transcript is available online. The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.