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States And Marijuana

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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

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

If the court will not back up the individuals, let it back up the

Pubdate: Fri, 19 Dec 2003
Source: Seattle Times (WA)
Copyright: 2003 The Seattle Times Company
Contact: opinion@seattletimes.com
Website: The Seattle Times | Local news, sports, business, politics, entertainment, travel, restaurants and opinion for Seattle and the Pacific Northwest.