- What happened to instigate this court procedure?
The Compassionate Use Act was introduced in the jurisdiction of California in 1996. It contains provisions on the legalization and authorisation of the use of marijuana for medical purposes. The federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), however, seized the marijuana which was in possession of the respondents (Angel Reich, Diane Morson and others) on grounds that, although legalized under the laws of California, it was in a violation of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), which is part of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970. Initially, the District Court decided against the argument of Ms Reich that the CSA as applied by the DEA was unconstitutional as it exceeded the power granted to Congress under the commercial clause. The respondents appealed this decision before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which reversed it and ruled in favour of the respondents. The case was then brought to the Supreme Court of the United States.
- Issue: What is the question will the court will be answering?
More specifically, the claim of Ms Reich and Ms Morson was that enforcing the CSA in the manner that the DEA officers did, by destroying the marijuana which was in the respondents’ possession for medical purposes, was contrary to the commerce clause as the case at hand did not directly produce an effect on interstate trade. Thus, the issue that the Supreme Court had to address was whether the “CSA’s categorical prohibition of the manufacture and possession of marijuana as applied to the intrastate manufacture and possession of marijuana for medical purposes pursuant to California law exceeds Congress’ authority under the Commerce Clause.” After clarifying that Congress does indeed have power to legislate on regulation of activities which have a substantial effect on interstate trade, the Supreme Court had to decide whether this was true when applied to the facts of the case.
- What is the Court's answer to the issue in question?
The Supreme Court did not reach a unanimous conclusion in the present case. The majority, however, concurred that even when an activity has a purely local character, it could be regulated by Congress provided that it substantially affected interstate commerce. The final opinion confirmed that this condition was fulfilled in the present scenario. The Supreme Court the commerce clause and the jurisprudence thereof should be read as allowing Congress to regulate the growing and possession of marijuana for medical purposes as the objective of this regulation was to control of the use of the substance for other, non-medical purposes. Since even the respondents never contested that the introduction of the CSA itself was in contradiction with the commerce clause, but rather targeted its application to intrastate manufacture and possession of marijuana for medical purposes, the Court concluded that given the imperative prohibition of the use of marijuana for non-medical purposes, authorising its possession in relation to medical use on a state level could have a substantial effect on interstate commerce.
- What is the reason(s) the court held the way it did?
Relying on the Perez case, the Supreme Court argued that when a certain class of activities, such as drug possession and use, are within the federal competence to legislate, the courts cannot simply “excise individual applications of a concededly valid statutory scheme.” Moreover, the majority supported its claim that the even though a purely local activity, the growing of marijuana for medical purposes could have a significant impact on interstate commerce by making an analogy to the facts and ruling in the Wickard case. The Court demonstrated that marijuana for medical use could be drawn into the interstate market the same way as wheat in the time of the Wickard decision. As a result, the Court argued, the legitimate federal interest in eliminating the interstate market of marijuana would be endangered.
- Gonzales v. Raich, 545 U.S. 1 (2005)
- Wickard v. Filburn, 317 U.S. 111 (1942)
- Perez v. United States, 402 U.S. 146 (1971)