Supreme Court Made The Wrong Decision in the California Medical Marijuana Case

by | Jun 11, 2005

The bad news is that the Supreme Court made the wrong decision on the constitutionality of California’s law allowing people with certain illnesses to use marijuana for medical purposes. By a 6 to 3 vote, the Court declared the California law unconstitutional, making it illegal for these Californians to continue growing their own marijuana for […]

The bad news is that the Supreme Court made the wrong decision on the constitutionality of California’s law allowing people with certain illnesses to use marijuana for medical purposes. By a 6 to 3 vote, the Court declared the California law unconstitutional, making it illegal for these Californians to continue growing their own marijuana for their own personal consumption.

Of course the government actually has no right to forbid the growing, possession, use, or sale of marijuana or any other drug. But that was not the issue in this case. The issue was whether the federal government could use the Constitution’s interstate commerce clause to justify their ignoring the California law and arresting people qualified under the California law for growing and using marijuana.

(My understanding, incidentally, is that the original intent of the interstate commerce clause was to empower Congress to stop states from interfering with interstate commerce, not to allow the federal government to interfere with it, but this also is not the issue.)

The good news is that Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a brilliant and correctly reasoned dissent. Here are the relevant passages.

“Respondents Diane Monson and Angel Raich use marijuana that has never been bought or sold, that has never crossed state lines, and that has had no demonstrable effect on the national market for marijuana. If Congress can regulate this under the Commerce Clause, then it can regulate virtually anything–and the Federal government is no longer one of limited and enumerated powers. … By holding that Congress may regulate activity that is neither interstate nor commerce under the Interstate Commerce Clause, the Court abandons any attempt to enforce the Constitution’s limits on federal power.”

About the majority’s ruling, Thomas aptly observes, “The majority is not interpreting the Commerce Clause, but rewriting it.

Also involved in this case is the “Necessary and Proper Clause,” which was included in the Constitution to rein in the Congress even though the framers obviously couldn’t enumerate every single law that could properly be passed:

“The Congress shall have the power … to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers [previously enumerated], and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof.”

Thomas writes: “The Necessary and Proper Clause is not a warrant to Congress to enact any law that bears some conceivable connection to the exercise of an enumerated power.”

Finally, Thomas references Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s dissent, “Congress presented no evidence in support of its conclusions, which are not so much findings of fact as assertions of power,” and Thomas concludes: “Congress cannot define the scope of its own power merely by declaring the necessity of its enactments.”

Though the majority decision was terrible, the Thomas dissent injects into the record a crucially important, fundamental idea, one which (coincidentally?) Ayn Rand states in “The Nature of Government”:

“… it cannot be repeated too often that the Constitution is a limitation on the government, not on private individuals–that it does not prescribe the conduct of private individuals, only the conduct of the government–that it is not a charter for government power, but a charter of the citizens’ protection against the government.”

Dr. Binswanger, a longtime associate of Ayn Rand, is an professor of philosophy at the Objectivist Academic Center of the Ayn Rand Institute. He is the author of How We Know: Epistemology on an Objectivist Foundation and is the creator of The Ayn Rand Lexicon: Objectivism from A to Z. Dr. Binswanger blogs at HBLetter.com (HBL)--an email list for Objectivists for discussing philosophic and cultural issues. A free trial is available at: HBLetter.com.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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