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Welcome to STop, the Seattle Times Opinion blog where our editorial writers and editors share their evolving thoughts on a variety of issues. STop is a place where opinion writers and readers can exchange views and readers can learn more about how editorial positions are formed.

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June 06, 2005

Marijuana and States' Rights

The Supreme Court ruling Monday in the medical-marijuana case, Gonzales v. Raich, shows that the modern administrative state, formed ostensibly for liberal purposes, can just as well be used for illiberal ones.

The question at issue was whether the federal government has power under the Constitution to penalize the growing of marijuana as medicine even if a state allows it. The court ruled 6-3 that the federal government does have that power under the Constitution’s language on interstate commerce, which says that Congress may regulate “commerce…among the several states.”

Growing marijuana and giving it to a sick person in the same town is neither interstate nor commerce. But here the Supreme Court has strayed a long way from the plain meaning of the Constitution. The Raich court cites Wickard v. Filburn (1942), a case about a farmer who planted wheat to feed to his cattle and chickens. The Roosevelt administration argued in this wartime case that it needed to regulate that in order to control the wholesale price of wheat—and the court (which FDR had appointed) agreed. It blew a hole in the Constitution. The court now applies similar logic to marijuana.

Who stuck up for Angel Raich? No liberals; one moderate, Justice O’Connor; and two conservatives, Chief Justice Rehnquist and Juctice Thomas. Thomas was the most eloquent. He wrote that the court’s decision means that Congress can regulate almost anything, which is completely at odds with the famous statement by James Madison that the powers of the federal government were "limited and few."

Writes Thomas, “One searches the Court’s opinion in vain for any hint of what aspect of American life is reserved to the States.” His exasperation showed through when he wrote, “If the majority is to be taken seriously, the Federal Government may now regulate quilting bees, clothes drives and potluck suppers throughout the 50 states.”

Thomas has it right, for all the good it does.

Respond to Bruce.

 
Posted by Bruce Ramsey at June 6, 2005 06:09 PM



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