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Gonzales v. Raich

Published on 25th March 2017

Gonzalez v. Raich 545 U.S. 1 (2005)

Facts: The Compassionate Use Act, or California Proposition 215 of 1996, was a state law allowing the use of medicinal marijuana in that state, as well as protecting its purveyors from criminal prosecution. Angel Raich used medicinal marijuana for a brain tumor, among other ailments, provided to her by two caregivers. Her situation was not dissimilar to that of Diane Monson, who grew her own marijuana to deal with spinal issues. Federal drug agents in 2002 found fault in Monson under the Controlled Substances Act, a federal law. The two women sued the DEA and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales because they viewed the CSA as interfering with state law. The response: Congress can regulate the use of marijuana nationwide under its delegated authority from the Commerce Clause. In Raich’s estimation, medical marijuana is noncommercial by its nature and entirely local to the state of California that is regulated by the state of California, not the federal government. Even the fertilizer was local. In District Court, the Federal government won, but the ruling was reversed by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. 

Question: Did Congress, in using the Controlled Substances Act, conduct itself erroneously by utilizing the Commerce Power to regulate the intrastate use of medicinal marijuana?

Holding: No. The Court ruled 6-3 that, no matter the state law involved, Congress could regulate intrastate marijuana use in pursuant of its Commerce Clause authority.

Rationale: Justice Stevens, in his opinion, reiterates the categories that Congress can regulate commerce under, and specifies that the case at hand deals with the third category: whether intrastate activities have a substantial effect on interstate commerce. It is not under contestation that Congress can regulate purely internal activities. In Justice Stevens’s estimation, all Congress need prove is that failure to regulate would “undercut the regulation of the interstate market in that commodity.” He relates this case intimately to Wickard, arguing that, just as Congress had a rational basis for regulating Wickard’s domestic consumption of wheat, so too does it have a rational basis for regulating marijuana. He argues that high demand for marijuana could illicitly draw medicinal marijuana into the market. The government has a substantial interest in eliminating marijuana transactions. He seems to argue as well that domestic consumption in any capacity has a substantial effect on interstate commerce. He discounts the intrastate nature of the activity, citing it as “of no moment.” Production of marijuana is still production, and very clearly economic thusly. The judgment of the Circuit court is remanded.

Justice O’Connor and Justice Thomas dissented. O’Connor argued that the circumstances presented are obvious violations of the doctrine of Federalism. States can make their own laws to experiment in relatively virgin areas of law. She fears that this case will give Congress a “perverse incentive to legislate broadly.” She fears that the majority’s definition of what is for regulation will “sweep all of productive human activity into federal regulatory reach.” Justice Thomas argues that Congress has done nothing to explain the interstate ramifications of medical marijuana. Mere possession does not pass for commerce under any form of logic. The majority has corrupted the Commerce Clause to deal with anything but, in Thomas’s opinion.  

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