'No' on medical marijuana use
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"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," Stevens writes.Skip to next paragraph
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"In assessing the scope of Congress' Commerce Clause authority, the court need not determine whether respondents' activities, taken in the aggregate, substantially affect interstate commerce in fact, but only whether a 'rational basis' exists for so concluding," he says.
"Congress had a rational basis for believing that failure to regulate the intrastate manufacture and possession of marijuana would leave a gaping hole in the CSA [Controlled Substances Act]," Stevens writes.
Joining Stevens' majority were Justices Anthony Kennedy, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Stephen Breyer. Justice Antonin Scalia filed an opinion concurring in the judgment.
Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said in a dissent that if she were a California citizen, she would not have voted for the medical-marijuana provision, nor would she have supported the resulting California law allowing medical use of marijuana if she were a state lawmaker. But she said the high court's job was to uphold the fundamental distribution of power within America's federalist system of government, including a state's power to experiment.
"One of federalism's chief virtues ... is that it 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," Justice O'Connor writes in a dissent joined by Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justice Clarence Thomas.
"Today the court sanctions an application of the federal Controlled Substances Act that extinguishes that experiment," she says, without any proof that California's medical marijuana law was having a "substantial effect" on interstate commerce.
O'Connor says in upholding federal authority rather than state power, the high court is undermining earlier federalism rulings. In 1995, the court by a 5-to-4 vote struck down the federal Gun-Free School Zones Act. The majority found an insufficient connection between Congress's concern about students taking guns to school and the commerce clause to justify a federal assertion of power at local schools nationwide.
The trend continued in 2000 when the same 5-to-4 majority struck down a portion of the Violence Against Women Act that authorized victims of gender-based violence to sue their assailants in federal court. The court said that the problem of gender-based violence did not justify imposition of national laws upon states with similar laws already on the books.
Stevens says those cases are fundamentally different from the medical-marijuana case. He says in the earlier cases, the parties asserted that they fell outside Congress's commerce-clause power entirely because they had no relation to an economic enterprise.
"In contrast, the CSA regulates quintessentially economic activities: the production, distribution, and consumption of commodities for which there is an established, and lucrative, interstate market," Stevens writes.
• Linda Feldmann contributed.