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Up in smoke – Justices take pot shots at medicinal marijuana law (Gonzales v. Raich)

Quimbee: Gonzales v. Raich

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In the 1970s, Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act, which prohibited anyone from growing or using marijuana. In 1996, however, the State of California passed a law permitting state citizens to grow and use marijuana for medicinal purposes.

Two California residents, Angel Raich and Diane Monson, had prescriptions to use marijuana for medical treatment. But federal agents seized and destroyed the Raich and Monson’s marijuana plants, despite the fact that the pair’s possession did not violate state law.

Raich and Monson sued Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to challenge the federal law in Gonzales v. Raich, 545 U.S. 1 (2005). The United States Supreme Court ultimately took up the case to decide whether Congress could regulate the in-state use and production of marijuana for medical purposes as a matter of its Commerce Clause authority.

A six-to-three majority of the Court concluded that the law was constitutional because Congress had power under the Commerce Clause to regulate purely local activities with substantial effects on interstate commerce. Strong dissents argued that the activity involved was completely unrelated to commerce, as the marijuana was never bought nor sold, and that the activity was within the state’s authority to regulate.

Despite those, this case represents an important affirmation of the federal government’s authority to ban marijuana even in states that have decriminalized or legalized it.

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