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Friday, December 19, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
In its medical-marijuana ruling earlier this week, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has endorsed compassion and states' rights ideas worth considering together.
It was surely compassionate to rule in favor of Angel Raich, who suffers from an inoperable brain tumor, and Diane Monson, who suffers from degenerative spine disease. It is a matter of simple humanity to accommodate such sufferers, and California law did that. So does Washington's, passed by initiative with 59 percent of the vote.
Two years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that federal drug laws have no exception for medical need that is, there is no individual right to obtain medical marijuana. Now comes this case, which says the federal drug law interferes with states' rights.
The line between the federal government and the states is in the Constitution, which grants federal authority over interstate commerce. But what is interstate? What is commerce? These words are open to interpretation, and between the New Deal and the Clinton era, courts were quick to label things as interstate commerce. The classic case was in 1942, when the Supreme Court said a farmer might affect interstate commerce by growing grain for his own chickens, and therefore could be regulated.
In 1995, the Court's "federalist" conservatives began to limit this federal power. It struck down a law banning possession of a gun within 1,000 feet of a school and, in 2000, a rape law. Gun possession and rape were not commerce, the court said. Let the states handle them.
Now the same doctrine supports medical marijuana. The 9th Circuit (rejecting one member who wanted to apply the chicken case to medical marijuana) is saying to the justices: Apply your federalist logic to this.
They should. States' rights are in the Constitution and, within the bounds of reason and individual rights, should be observed. And as a practical matter, there is no reason for a federal interference in medical marijuana. To citizens with degenerative and terminal diseases, the federal government has been bullying and unreasonable. It also bullies the states, whose policies are more reasonable and humane.
If the court will not back up the individuals, let it back up the states.
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