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November 26, 2004
Supreme Court To Weigh Marijuana, Federalism

The AP reports that the Supreme Court will hear arguments Monday of an appeal of the Ninth Circuit's ruling that federal anti-marijuana laws do not apply when marijuana is used for medicinal purposes and does not cross state lines. The case promises to shed light on the current court's support of federalism and states' rights:

On Monday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case that will determine whether Raich and similar patients in California and 10 other states can continue to use marijuana for medical purposes.

At issue is whether states have the right to adopt laws allowing the use of drugs the federal government has banned or whether federal drug agents can arrest individuals for abiding by those medical marijuana laws.

California passed the nation's first so-called medical marijuana law in 1996, allowing patients to smoke and grow marijuana with a doctor's recommendation. The Bush administration maintains those laws violate federal drug rules and asserts that marijuana has no medical value.

But the drug eases Raich's pain, allows her to rise out of a wheelchair and promotes an appetite that prevents her from wasting away.

I remember when California voters approved this referendum, one of the few that the Ninth Circuit hasn't overturned on appeal. One of the arguments made in opposition to it was that federal laws banning marijuana use would trump it. That wasn't the only issue; because of the laws banning its use, doctors wouldn't prescribe marijuana, so the law made an explicit prescription unnecessary. It required only a doctor's recommendation, which convinced me to vote against the measure.

I think both sides are being hypocritical in this issue. For one thing, THC can be made available through other means than smoking weed, making the growing of marijuana unnecessary. No study has conclusively proved anything other than a placebo effect from smoking marijuana, although that data is very old thanks to a pigheaded refusal on the part of the FDA to even consider researching any possible benefits in a new, well-funded double-blind study. (It may be difficult to do anyway, considering the distinctive aroma of marijuana smoke.)

While I adamantly believe that marijuana is harmful, having seen the negative effects on friends while I grew up, I think that the warnings are overblown. Alcohol is just as impairing as marijuana and much easier to overdose. The money, effort, and jail space wasted on marijuana enforcement could be put to better use in enforcing drug laws on more dangerous substances, and the organic nature of marijuana makes it almost impossible to ban. If states want to legalize marijuana, the federal government should refrain from interfering except in cases where the material crosses state or national borders. Better to have a legalized, controlled market than the underground criminal distribution that we have now.

I think we'll see a surprising coalition of justices uphold the Ninth Circuit's ruling in defense of federalism. Perhaps once upheld, California can correct their law to require an actual prescription instead of relying on the more ambiguous "recommendation" standard. Unfortunately, it appears from the AP headline that bias has already snuck into the process, rendering any conclusion suspect (emphasis mine):

High Court to Weigh Medical Marijuana Laws

Someone at the AP has a sense of humor, I see ...

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at November 26, 2004 9:40 AM

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