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Posted by on Jun 7, 2005 in At TMV | 0 comments

States Rights Go To Pot In Supreme Court Anti-Pot Decision

To many — including some conservatives — the Supreme Court’s ruling saying it’s OK for federal officials to prosecute people using marijuana on a doctor’s recommendation shows that many on the court are blowing smoke when they talk about respecting state’s rights.

In a decision that was not narrow, the Court added more fuel to the argument that these days left can mean right, conservative can mean liberal — and verbal and written principles can be finessed, depending on the case, until mean very little. The vote:

The court’s 6-3 decision was filled with sympathy for two seriously ill California women who brought the case, but the majority agreed that federal agents may arrest even sick people who use the drug as well as the people who grow pot for them.

Justice John Paul Stevens, an 85-year-old cancer survivor, said the court was not passing judgment on the potential medical benefits of marijuana, and he noted “the troubling facts” in the case. However, he said the Constitution allows federal regulation of homegrown marijuana as interstate commerce.

The Bush administration has taken a hard stand against state medical marijuana laws, but it was unclear how it would respond to the new prosecutorial power. Justice Department spokesman John Nowacki would not say whether prosecutors would pursue cases against individual users.

A word to the wise. Given this administration’s track record on in-your-face political stands this probably means there WILL be a prosecution of someone using marijuana somewhere along the line, to send a strong message to patients — and states — that don’t take the court ruling seriously. MORE:

In a dissent, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said the court’s “overreaching stifles an express choice by some states, concerned for the lives and liberties of their people, to regulate medical marijuana differently.”……

The ruling does not strike down California’s law, or similar ones in Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington state. However, it may hurt efforts to pass laws in other states because the federal government’s prosecution authority trumps states’ wishes.

John Walters, director of national drug control policy, defended the government’s ban. “Science and research have not determined that smoking marijuana is safe or effective,” he said.

California’s law, passed by voters in 1996, allows people to grow, smoke or obtain marijuana for medical needs with a doctor’s recommendation. Monson and Raich contend that traditional medicines do not provide the relief that marijuana does.

A few initial thoughts on this:

  • Federal law does generally trump state law.
  • But this is an instance where the national administration is adamant on not letting states set their own policy. Wasn’t respecting states rights supposed to be a basic tenet of the Republican party in general, and conservatives in particular?
  • This will shift the battleground on this issue to Congress. Will it pass? Unlikely, given the dominance of social conservatives.

Here’s some of what Oceanside, CA’s North County Times says in a blistering editorial:

Our view: Supreme Court ruling should prompt Congress to change drug laws.

The Bush administration got the ruling it wanted Monday to properly punish people it considers dangerous lawbreakers: ailing patients who use state-approved marijuana to relieve their painful symptoms. We hope the federal government heeds common sense and the will of majorities in 10 states and opts not to crack down on medical-marijuana users. Don’t they have anything better to do?

The answer apparently is: NO.

Gary Storck, a longtime advocate of using marijuana for medical purposes, writing in the Wisconsin State Journal, contends the ruling doesn’t necessarily mean we’re in for a series of screeching headlines about federal officials hauling suffering or terminally ill patients off to jail:

Contrary to what some will be saying about the U.S. Supreme Court’s 6-3 ruling on medical marijuana, this narrow technical ruling does not invalidate medical marijuana laws now in effect in 10 states.

Neither does it invalidate local ordinances allowing medical marijuana, including Madison’s ordinance, or those passed in 2004 by Detroit and Ann Arbor, Mich., and Columbia, Mo.

States without current medical marijuana laws are still free to enact them. While federal authorities retain the power to target patients and providers, 99 of 100 marijuana arrests are made at the local and state level. Rather than using this court ruling as an excuse not to move forward with legislation that would protect patients from arrest and jail, state lawmakers should redouble their efforts….

For myself, a lifelong glaucoma sufferer with other health problems, this ruling means justice denied. Thirty- three years ago, a medical exam confirmed marijuana was beneficial in treating my glaucoma. Twenty-six years ago June 4, another doctor wrote a note stating he would prescribe it for me if he were legally able to do so. Today, big government is still standing in the way….

Meanwhile, since the Supreme Court justices have apparently punted the ball to Congress, citizens must now make their support known and continue to do so until Congress does the right thing. Rather than waiting for accident or illness to strike them or a loved one – and finding out the only medicine that can help is illegal – please let Congress know this issue needs to be resolved.

This probably means the state laws are effectively dead in the water, although local officials in various states are unlikely to raid patients using marijuana. That will be left to the feds.

Bottom line: Bush adminstration wins, states rights loses and some patients will remain in incredible pain because the federal government wants to impose its ideology on the country and brush aside arguments that medical marijuana can help some people.

PERSONAL NOTE: This writer is ADAMANTLY anti-drug, has never used drugs, and has talked to many young people about the health and legal consquences of doing illegal drugs. BUT this is an issue involving the relief of pain, controlled use of marijuana strictly for that purpose, states rights — and a national government that once again shows its mantra is: No compromise.

–Law professor Glenn Reynolds, AKA Instapundit, has a round up. His reaction to the ruling:”NINTH CIRCUIT 1, SUPREME COURT 0: The 9th Circuit asked the Supreme Court how serious it was about enumerated powers, and the answer, apparently (I haven’t read the decision yet) was not so much. LATER: I’ve looked at it now. Not so much.”
Crooks And Liars:”If there was money to make and Pfizer(Viagra=blindenss) and Merck (Vioxx=heart attacks) had developed a pill that contained THC which simualted the effects of marijuana that helped people ease their pain would anybody be up in arms? If the drug lobbyists then poured millions of dollars into politicians pockets to get the drug approved would anybody complain?”
Dean Esmay:

Any conservative who agrees with this decision will automatically be branded “liar, hypocrite, and selfish scumbag” by me if he ever writes another word favoring the 10th amendment or about limiting Federal encroachment again.

Mind you, I have nothing good to say about the so-called “liberals” on the bench, who should all obviously be called “statist control freaks” instead. But Scalia takes the cake. This is the man who said sodomy laws could stand because it’s wrong to encroach on state law? Liar. He obviously made that decision because of his contempt for gay people, no more. (Thomas and Rehnquist, though, have just illustrated that you CAN hold a states’ rights position and really mean it sincerely.)

Oliver Willis:”This decision is just dumb….Wanna hammer yourself silly on beer? Go right ahead. Want some marijuana to ease the pain of a debilitating illness? You’re outta luck.”
Pennywit:”It’s as if the “war on drugs” loses all of its validity if just one person or just one group is allowed to use the drug, which is admittedly of little danger to either that individual or the individuals about him. Moreover, nine states have passed laws that allow individuals to use marijuana for medical purposes. Now, nine states does not constitute a political consensus. But it begs the question: might it be better to leave medical-marijuana regulation to the states, rather than to send in the feds?”
Right Thinking From The Left Coast:

Everyone remember today, June 6, 2005. It’s the day the Constitution officially died. The Supreme Court has declared the concepts of federalism and enumerated powers to be null and void.

All you social conservatives, remember this the next time you piss and moan about some liberal activist court. This decision is the LITERAL DEFINITION of judicial activism.

INDC Journal:”I eagerly await conservative cries of “where is the strict constructionism?” after this nifty ruling. I don’t recall “smoking weed” to be an activity specifically enumerated in the founding document nor any of its amendments, but I’m not exactly a Constitutional scholar. And no, the federal right to regulate interstate commerce does not apply to the specifics of this case.”
skippy the hussein kangroo’s cookie jill (always written in lower case):”this ruling constitutes torture for many ill people. i watched my friend slowly wither away with aids many years ago. he was in constant pain and agony. he couldn’t hold down food. smoking a little marijuana a day amazingly eased his pain and gave him an ability to eat. “regular” prescription drugs couldn’t do it but a couple “puffs” a day was the only thing that made his life bareable and painfree in the end.”
Sideshow:”I’m kind of speechless about this. On the one hand, we know who’s running things. On the other, it’s painful to think we have a government that would actually go to court to defend this position.”
Scared Monkeys:”How they could see that this would touch interstate commerce is amazing to me, but todays Court is has kept up the tradition of the powerful federalist bent on the court. The media had a hard time figuring out the fact that he conservative judges were the ones voting against this measure, and the liberal justices wanting to increase the power of the federal government over states and individuals rights.”
Professor Bainbridge:”A quick look at the opinion suggests that federalism concerns have once again been relegated to the status of prudential arguments more properly directed to the legislative and executive branches than to the judicial one….Which is precisely why we ought to view the Supreme Court not as a judicial body, but rather as a super-legislature. Which, in turn, is precisely why we ought to have a serious debate in this country about the nature of judicial review and the role of the judiciary.”
–James Joyner:”While I disagree with the public policy of the federal government here, the Supremes are correct that federal law trumps state law in an area where the feds have jurisdiction. It has been an article of faith for decades that the feds have the power to regulate medicine and drugs as an extension of their jurisdiction over interstate commerce.”
Secure Liberty:”That’s right folks…conservatives. It’s another example of how the liberal/conservative label doesn’t work in the judicial context. If the federal government cannot regulate drugs, how can they regulate workplace safety (goodbye OSHA), or retirement plans (goodbye ERISA) or any number of massive federal regualtory schemes related to health, safety and welfare over which Congress has no direct Constitutional authority, other than through the commerce clause. Not a very appealing concept for fans of big government, Democrat or Republican.”
John Cole:”Thank goodness for the Justice Department. Now we can send cancer patients to jail for smoking pot under Doctor’s orders. Glad that threat has been cleared up. And if anything you do anywhere can be covered under the auspices of interstate commerce, well- anything can be regulated. Wonder how all the ‘strict constructionist’ right-wingers are going to explain Scalia’s vote…”
Steven Taylor:”The Appeals Court’s position seems reasonable to me, and in concert with federalism/the Consitution…Nonetheless, the Supremes overturned the lower court’s ruling 6-3. This strikes me more as the Court being unwilling to blow the Control Substances Act apart (which is what would have happened) than it does to be about medical marijuana, per se, or their willingness to take federalism seriously.”
Running Scared’s Mu:”Haven’t seen yet who voted which way (it was 6:3), but somehow it’s ironic that the small government party is working steadily to increase the power of the central government. They must be planning to hold on to it for a long time.”
Americablog’s Michael:”Whatever you think of the ruling. the 6-3 decision penned by John Paul Stevens is a case of hypocrisy by the court’s far right judges since they pretend to support states’ rights but back away from that philosophy whenever it involves something they object to, like medical marijuana.”
Digby has a long and lively post. Read it in full. A small taste 4 U:

Rehnquist, Thomas and O’Connor dissented on the basis of states’ rights, which is also consistent with their position. Kennedy swung with the majority — he has no discernible position. The “surprise” is that Little Nino, who is proving himself to be more and more of a straight-up whore every day, voted with Ginsberg and Stevens and the rest. Not because he agrees with the legal doctrine involved — nothing in his judicial history would suggest that — but because he just doesn’t want people smoking pot. Or perhaps he just thinks that federal power is ducky when it’s in the hands of his friends. Either way, he’s intellectually bankrupt.

–Wizbang’s Kevin Alyward thinks it won’t have as big an impact as many think:”The story is sure to reported incorrectly as the SCOTUS striking down the state marijuana laws. I’ve found no indication that the Court overturned the state law (California in this case), but rather they reiterated the federal law. The real question is whether state law enforcement agencies will turn a blind eye to that which is legal under state law and illegal under federal law. I’m guessing they will…”