Tidbits on Drug Policy

Another two cents thrown in

No judicial relief for medical marijuana

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“Oakland medical marijuana patient and activist Angel Raich dropped her lawsuit against the federal government Thursday,” reports InsideBayArea.com.

Earlier in the decade, the Court delivered a one-two punch to the quest to quell the federal persecution of medicinal marijuana patients and their providers with two cases, United States v. Oakland Cannabis Buyers Coop. (2001) and Gonzales v. Raich (2005). The Oakland Cannabis Buyers Corp. held that “there is no medical necessity exception to the Controlled Substances Act’s prohibitions on manufacturing and distributing marijuana,” but declined to consider the constitutional issues. Justice Thomas, writing for the majority stated that:

“[T]he Cooperative asserts that, shorn of a medical necessity defense, the statute exceeds Congress’ Commerce Clause powers, violates the substantive due process rights of patients, and offends the fundamental liberties of the people under the Fifth, Ninth, and Tenth Amendments. […] [W]e [do not] consider the underlying constitutional issues today. Because the Court of Appeals did not address these claims, we decline to do so in the first instance.”

So, a few short years later, in Gonzales v. Raich, the Court got an opportunity to rule whether the federal laws banning local cultivation and use of marijuana violates the Commerce Clause. It sided with the government, holding that “Congress’ Commerce Clause authority includes the power to prohibit the local cultivation and use of marijuana in compliance with California law.” However, once again, the Court decided to consider only the issues squarely before it:

“Respondents also raise a substantive due process claim and seek to avail themselves of the medical necessity defense. These theories of relief were set forth in their complaint but were not reached by the Court of Appeals. We therefore do not address the question whether judicial relief is available to respondents on these alternative bases. We do note, however, the presence of another avenue of relief. As the Solicitor General confirmed during oral argument, the statute authorizes procedures for the reclassification of Schedule I drugs. But perhaps even more important than these legal avenues is the democratic process, in which the voices of voters allied with these respondents may one day be heard in the halls of Congress.”

It seemed like the Court was determined to dodge the larger moral issue of whether it is appropriate for the federal government to persecute very, very ill people for trying to make their lives a little more bearable. I fully understand the Court for taking the formalistic approach and that “sympathetic plaintiffs make bad law,” but this case could have been decided differently, even when limited in scope to the Commerce Clause (For how respondents could have prevailed in Gonzales v. Raich, see the next post).

Well, the quote above provided Angel Raich with a roadmap to other possible “theories of relief.” First, she continued her legal quest, but, after she lost in the 9th Circuit on due process grounds, she gave up, stating that “I’ve lost all faith in the judicial system.” She now plans to heed the suggestion of the Gonzales Court and take her battle from courts to Congress. By the way, a bill that would alleviate the threat of federal prosecution for medical marijuana patients in the 12 states that allow it was soundly defeated in the House of Representatives four times during the past four years, each time it was introduced.

Originally written on May 12, 2007

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