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Gonzales v. Raich

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

Respondents argue that the federal Controlled Substance Act, which categorically prohibits the manufacture and possession of marijuana for medical purposes pursuant to California law, exceeds congressional authority under the Commerce Clause.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Congress has the power to regulate purely local activities that are part of an economic “class of activities” that substantially affects interstate commerce.


California enacted the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, creating an exemption from criminal prosecution for physicians and for patients and primary caregivers who possess or cultivate marijuana for medicinal purposes. Respondents suffered from many serious medical conditions and tried to obtain marijuana pursuant to the terms of the Compassionate Use Act. The respondents sought injunction against the enforcement of the federal Controlled Substances Act, which prohibited individuals from possessing or obtaining cannibis for their personal medical use.


Does the commerce power include the power to prohibit local cultivation and use of marijuana in compliance with the California law?


Yes, as in Wickard, Congress rationally concluded that leaving home-consumed marijuana outside federal control would similarly affect price and market conditions. Here, the regulation is within Congress’ commerce power because production of commodity meant for home consumption, has a substantial effect on supply and demand in the national market for the commodity.


Justice O’Connor

The majority was wrong to state that Congress may regulate noncommercial activity simply because it may have an effect on the demand for or indirect effect on commercial goods, because most commercial goods have some sort of privately producible analogue. The homegrown cultivation and personal possession and use of marijuana for medicinal purposes has no apparent commercial character. Marijuana at issue was never in the stream of commerce. Lopez makes it clear that possession is not itself commercial activity. The majority went too far to claim that respondents‘ activity has affected the interstate commerce when they have never possessed by means of commercial transaction. They have grown their own marijuana at their homes for their own use.


Justice Scalia

Unlike the interstate channels, instrumentalities and agents of interstate commerce, activities that substantially affect interstate commerce are not themselves interstate commerce. Thus, the power to regulate them cannot come from the Commerce Clause alone. Instead, Congress’ authority to regulate them comes from the Necessary and Proper Clause, which enables Congress to enact laws necessary and proper for the regulation of interstate commerce as well as intrastate commerce.


Due to the possible enforcement difficulties from distinguishing between marijuana cultivated locally and marijuana grown elsewhere, and concerns about diversion into black markets, Congress needs to have the power to regulate the intrastate manufacture and possession of marijuana. As the Court noted in Wickard, the fact that Congress’ regulation may affect some purely local activity is not relevant. Moreover, as opposed to the respondent’s argument, the activities regulated by the Act are purely economic. The CSA regulates the production, distribution, and consumption of commodities for which there is an established interstate market. Thus, it directly regulates economic, commercial activity, and the challenged Act is perfectly within the power of Congress to enact.

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