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Gonzales v. Raich

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Brief Fact Summary.

California residents challenged the federal Controlled Substances Act that prevents them from possessing, obtaining, or manufacturing cannabis for their personal medical use. California allows the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

California residents challenged the federal Controlled Substances Act that prevents them from possessing, obtaining, or manufacturing cannabis for their personal medical use. California allows the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

Points of Law - Legal Principles in this Case for Law Students.

As Chief Justice Rehnquist notes, depending upon the level of generality, any activity can be looked upon as commercial.

View Full Point of Law
Facts.

California authorizes the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. California residents brought this action seeking injunctive relief prohibiting the enforcement of the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA), to the extent it prevents them from possessing, obtaining, or manufacturing cannabis for their personal medical use. Respondents are cultivating, for home consumption, a fungible commodity for which there is an established, albeit illegal, interstate market. A primary purpose of the CSA is to control the supply and demand of controlled substances in both lawful and unlawful drug markets. Congress reasoned that leaving home-consumed marijuana outside federal control would similarly affect price and market conditions.

Issue.

Does the federal Controlled Substances Act that prevents residents from possessing, obtaining, or manufacturing cannabis for their personal medical use violate the Constitution?

Held.

No, Congress has a rational basis for concluding that the intrastate cultivation and possession of marijuana for medical purposes based on the recommendation of a physician would affect the larger interstate marijuana market and the aggregate impact on the national market of all the transactions exempted from federal supervision is unquestionably substantial. Thus, Congress may prohibit residents from possessing, obtaining, or manufacturing cannabis for their personal medical use.

Dissent.

Justice O’Connor

Economic activity usually relates directly to commercial activity. Everyone agrees that the marijuana at issue in this case was never in the stream of commerce, and neither were the supplies for growing it. Our prior cases make clear that possession is not itself commercial activity. And respondents have not come into possession by means of any commercial transaction; they have simply grown, in their own homes, marijuana for their own use, without acquiring, buying, selling, or bartering a thing of value.

Concurrence.

Justice Scalia

Congress’ regulatory authority over intrastate activities that are not themselves part of interstate commerce derives from the Necessary and Proper Clause. Where necessary to make a regulation of interstate commerce effective, Congress may regulate even those intrastate activities that do not themselves substantially affect interstate commerce. Congress may regulate even noneconomic local activity if that regulation is a necessary part of a more general regulation of interstate commerce.

Discussion.

That the California exemptions – allowing marijuana for medicinal purposes –  will have a significant impact on both the supply and demand sides of the market for marijuana is not just plausible, it is readily apparent. The exemption for physicians provides them with an economic incentive to grant their patients permission to use the drug. The exemption for cultivation by patients and caregivers can only increase the supply of marijuana in the California market. The likelihood that all such production will promptly terminate when patients recover or will precisely match the patients’ medical needs during their convalescence seems remote; whereas the danger that excesses will satisfy some of the enormous demand for recreational use seems obvious. Also, that the national and international narcotics trade has thrived in the face of vigorous criminal enforcement efforts suggests that no small number of unscrupulous people will make use of the California exemptions to serve their commercial ends whenever it is feasible to do so.


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