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June 6, 2005
SCOTUS Harshes Everyone's Mellow

The Supreme Court dealt a body blow to medical marijuana advocates this morning by ruling that the federal ban on consumption trumps more liberal laws approved by individual states:

Federal authorities may prosecute sick people who smoke pot on doctors orders, the Supreme Court ruled Monday, concluding that state medical marijuana laws dont protect users from a federal ban on the drug.

The decision is a stinging defeat for marijuana advocates who had successfully pushed 10 states to allow the drugs use to treat various illnesses.

Justice John Paul Stevens, writing the 6-3 decision, said that Congress could change the law to allow medical use of marijuana.

In this case, Stevens argues for judicial restraint and conservatism. The court could easily have declared for state's rights and invalidated the ban enacted by Congress and its agency, the FDA. Instead, he avoided the entire issue of the merits or lack thereof of the medicinal value of weed -- the proper position for the Supreme Court to take.

On the other hand, Sandra Day O'Connor led the trio of opposing judges arguing that states' rights allows for such legislation to supercede federal authority. She also argued that the law overreaches in its authority to keep people from growing their own marijuana in their own homes for their own purposes:

O'Connor said she would have opposed California's medical marijuana law if she was a voter or a legislator. But she said the court was overreaching to endorse "making it a federal crime to grow small amounts of marijuana in one's own home for one's own medicinal use."

However, O'Connor has to then ignore that Congress gave the authority for determining safety, efficacy, and propriety of pharmaceuticals to the FDA, in part to protect American consumers from the quackery of the 19th and early 20th centuries. That amounts to a compelling state interest, and Congress has the right and responsibility to act in that regard. To have SCOTUS strip that authority from Congress would have amounted to judicial activism, this time ironically from the right.

None of this actually decides whether marijuana in its smoked form has medicinal value to the chronically nauseated from chemotherapy or radiotherapy. Perhaps now that its authority has been reaffirmed, Congress will authorize a full and independent study of that question in order to settle the question once and for all.

UPDATE: Come visit my comments, where a couple of people are seriously harshing my mellow -- by pounding me (politely) over my reaction. It's painful but compelling. XRLQ and Brant from SWLiP argue for the prosecution, while I represent myself ... to predictable results.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at June 6, 2005 9:43 AM

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