Angel Raich and Diane Monson, suffering from serious medical ailments, were being treated with marijuana under the California Compassionate Use Act. Monson grew her own marijuana. Raich relied on two local men to raise marijuana for her. The plaintiffs actions were legal under California law but ostensibly illegal under federal law. The plaintiffs instituted an action for declaratory judgment against the federal governmnet seeking a ruling that that federal regulation exceeded the Commerce Clause power. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the federal government relying on Wickard v. Filburn analysis: "Our case law firmly establishes Congress’ power to regulate purely local activities that are part of an economic 'class of activities' that have a substantial effect on interstate commerce."
Beyond the obvious Commerce Clause / Enumerated Powers / Federal v. State Power issues, I think that there are 4 other really interesting aspects of this decision that can be explored in class:
1. Ten years before, the Supreme Court's decision in US v. Lopez purported to draw the line for a more limited use of the commerce clause power.
"To uphold the Government's contentions here, we would have to pile inference upon inference in a manner that would bid fair to convert congressional authority under the Commerce Clause to a general police power of the sort retained by the States. Admittedly, some of our prior cases have taken long steps down that road, giving great deference to congressional action. See supra, at 8. The broad language in these opinions has suggested the possibility of additional expansion, but we decline here to proceed any further. To do so would require us to conclude that the Constitution's enumeration of powers does not presuppose something not enumerated, cf. Gibbons v. Ogden, supra, at 195, and that there never will be a distinction between what is truly national and what is truly local, cf. Jones & Laughlin Steel, supra, at 30. This we are unwilling to do."
What are we to make of the Commerce Clause power now?
2. Justice Scalia (voting with the majority for limited federal power in Lopez) filed a concurrence in Raich.
The regulation of an intrastate activity may be essential to a comprehensive regulation of interstate commerce even though the intrastate activity does not itself “substantially affect” interstate commerce. Moreover, as the passage from Lopez quoted above suggests, Congress may regulate even noneconomic local activity if that regulation is a necessary part of a more general regulation of interstate commerce. See Lopez, supra, at 561. The relevant question is simply whether the means chosen are “reasonably adapted” to the attainment of a legitimate end under the commerce power. See Darby, supra, at 121.
This is undoubtedly a broad view of federal regulatory power. All this despite Scalia admitting in oral argument, "I used to laugh at Wickard."
3. At the time of the Raich decision, 9 states had medicical marijuana statutes. Fifteen states plus DC now have such laws and 10 more states have legislation under consideration. Are the states thumbing their noses at the feds? Do the feds care? After announcing that Federal resources would not be used to purusue marijuana use where it was legalized by states, the DOJ seems to be rethinking its position.
4. What do we do with other activities associated with marijuana use - like advertising. Will the FCC take action against broadcasters who run ads for dispensaries? Would a new executive administration be more aggressive in enforcement of federal law?
A variety of images are available at Voices of American Law site. Plaintiffs Monson and Raich: