Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Mary Jane gets tossed by the Supreme Court

Interesting turn of events. The Supreme Court ruled that federal law supercedes state laws with regard to medicinal marijuana.
Terminally ill patients who smoke marijuana to alleviate pain can be prosecuted for violating federal drug laws, even if their own state laws allow them to use marijuana for medical purposes, the Supreme Court ruled Monday.

In a 6-3 decision, the court ruled that federal drug laws, which say marijuana has no medical value, trump statutes in 11 states that allowed terminally ill patients to use the drug or limit penalties for doing so. Although the ruling does not overturn the state laws, it means patients who use marijuana for medical reasons could be arrested and prosecuted under the federal Controlled Substances Act.
How'd they come to that? Well,
Under the Constitution, Congress may pass laws regulating a state's economic activity so long as it involves "interstate commerce" that crosses state borders.
Hmmm... of course the case that set this ruling in motion involved a chronically ill woman who had six pot plants in her backyard and didn't sell it. And, none of it went across state lines.

But, the bust was federal in nature.
The Bush administration said the raids were conducted under Congress' power to regulate interstate commerce--a provision that has long been the rationale for federal intrusions into traditional state functions. But the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the "cultivation, possession and use of marijuana for medicinal purposes and not for exchange or distribution is not properly characterized as commercial or economic activity." If there's no commerce, it concluded, the commerce clause is irrelevant, leaving the federal government powerless.
In the past, the Court has sided with states when there's been no interstate commerce involved.
The high court had long stretched the commerce clause to expand federal regulatory authority. But the tribunal had seemed to edge back toward a traditional federalist position in its 1995 Lopez decision striking down a 1990 federal law prohibiting guns in school zones. In that ruling, Rehnquist, O'Connor and Thomas joined Scalia and Kennedy in ruling the federal government had no regulatory authority since the issue had no discernible impact on interstate commerce.
So, if I get this right. State laws trump federal laws when it comes to guns in schools, but federal laws trump state laws when it comes to the medicinal use of pot.

Got it. That makes a whole lotta sense.

I'm thinking those folks who want to legalize pot have their work cut out for them.

Two tales before I sign off for the moment.

Many moons ago, I attended the Coast Guard's small boat coxswain school in Yorktown, Virginia. We had a couple of DEA and Customs agents in our class. They, federal law enforcement officers, were all in favor of legalizing pot. All the way. Tax it like any other sin product -- alcohol and tobacco -- but make it legal. They also did not buy into the slipper slope argument that pot leads to harder drugs; and, they were opposed to legalizing any other drugs, such as cocaine.

It was hard for me to shake my paradigm; here were federal agents who held strong, strong beliefs in the right-ness of our current laws, policies, and strategies.

Second tale involves a trip I made to Amsterdam once. I'd compare the Red Light District to the French Quarter in New Orleans except Amsterdam was cleaner, people were better behaved, there weren't drunks stumbling down the narrow streets, and the air had a slight tinge of smoke... When it's all in the open, it's not that big a deal.

In the mean time, I'd suggest Angel McClary Raich, the Oakland woman at the center of the Supreme Court fight, consider moving to Amsterdam before the feds come busting back in her home to look for weed. She can blow a little boo without fear of ending up in a federal pen.

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