Gonzales v. Raich and the commerce clause

Californians are authorized by state law to use marijuana under a doctor’s relief for certain symptoms. Respondent Raich had a brain tumor and was recommended by her doctor to use marijuana for personal use. She and respondent Monson grew it their home for medical use. In 2002, federal agents seized and destroyed their plants to enforce the Controlled Substances Act. So Raich and Monson brought suit. They claimed that the CSA exceeded Congress’ power under the Commerce Clause, because their possession was wholly intrastate and did not affect the market for pot.

It made its way to the Supreme Court, to be called Gonzales v. Raich. Randy Barnett argued for the respondents, and Paul Clement argued for the government.

The Court issued a 6-3 ruling by Stevens that held that yes, the Commerce Clause does give Congress the authority to to prohibit possession.

It seems inhumane and absurd. First, a woman with an inoperable brain tumor can’t use the pot that doctors say are keeping her alive. Second, the pot was consumed only in the home and never crossed state lines. How much can Raich’s possession affect interstate commerce?

Here’s how Ilya Somin summed this decision up in a Brookings talk:

“The broadest ever Commerce Clause decision was Gonzales v. Raich, where the Court said that Congress has the power to forbid the possession and growth of medical marijuana even if it was never sold anywhere… because it was economic activity.”

And Somin elaborates a bit differently here:

“The Supreme Court’s 2005 decision in Gonzales v. Raich ruled that Congress’ power to regulate interstate commerce gives it the power to ban possession of medical marijuana that had never crossed state lines or been sold in any market anywhere.”

Radley Balko has a summary:

In that case the high court said the Feds could regulate home-grown marijuana that was grown and consumed entirely in California because that activity might still affect prices in other states (presumably because Californians could have smoked imported weed if they had not grown their own).

We’ll wrap up with with the dissent by Justice Thomas:

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.


Posted in Law