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Gonzalez v. Raich

Citation. 545 U.S. 1, 125 S. Ct. 2195, 162 L. Ed. 2d 1 (2005).
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Brief Fact Summary.

A group of medical marijuana users brought suit in federal court arguing that the CSA exceeded Congress’ commerce clause power.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Congress may regulate the production, distribution, possession, and consumption of marijuana under the CSA, so long as Congress’ means are rationally related to its objective.


After the DEA seized doctor-prescribed marijuana from a patient’s home, a group of medical marijuana users sued the DEA and U.S. Attorney General in a federal district court. The medical marijuana users argued the CSA exceeded Congress’ commerce clause power.


May Congress prohibit the local production, distribution, possession, and consumption of marijuana under the CSA, even when in compliance with state law authorizing its use for medical purposes?


Justice O’Connor, with whom Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justice Thomas join

With the CSA, Congress is overstepping the states’ core police powers, which have always included authority to define criminal law and to protect the health, safety, and welfare of their citizens. Something more than mere assertion is required when Congress purports to have power over local activity whose connection to an interstate market is not self-evident.

Justice Thomas

Disagrees with the majority court’s contention that the vast interstate market could be affected by medical cannabis. This Court has allowed the federal government to strip states of their ability to regulate intrastate commerce, not to mention a host of local activities, like mere drug possession, which are not commercial.


Justice Scalia

The simple possession of drugs is a noneconomic activity and may not be regulated by Congress under the Commerce Clause. Rather, Congress’ authority to enact prohibitions of intrastate controlled-substance activities derives from the Necessary and Proper Clause – namely, whether they are appropriate means of achieving the legitimate end of eradicating illegal substances from interstate commerce.


Congress can regulate purely intrastate activity that is not commercial if Congress had a rational basis for believing that, when viewed in the aggregate, local use would have a substantial influence on price and market conditions. Here, Congress had a rational basis for concluding that leaving home-consumed marijuana outside federal control would affect price and market conditions given the likelihood that the high demand in the interstate market will draw such marijuana into that market. The Court justifies its decision citing the enforcement difficulties that would arise in distinguishing between marijuana cultivated locally and marijuana grown elsewhere. Additionally, the Court distinguishes the facts of this case from Lopez and Morrison, stating that the activities regulated by the CSA are quintessentially economic – production, distribution, and consumption of commodities for which there is an established and lucrative interstate market.

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