The Legalization of Medical Marijuana Concerning Federalism
Government is a powerful tool. There is a constant struggle for control over its power between various groups and individuals. There is also an uncertainty of who holds the power when there are different interpretations of legal documents. A large portion of this discrepancy has to do with the battle between state and federal governments over legal turf. In the United States there are many examples of this controversial struggle happening over many subjects. One such subject is who should decide if medical marijuana should be legalized: the state or the central (federal) government?
Some believe that the federal government should have control over this issue because The Constitution, the basis for law, gives the federal government more power in certain instances. The difference is in the interpretation of the text. So, to start out we will look at which constitutional powers would put power in the hands of the central government. The texts that pertain to legalizing medical marijuana and might give the federal government the power are the Commerce Clause, the Controlled Substances Act, and the Supremacy Clause. The Commerce Clause in Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3 states that “The Congress shall have Power… To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes” (U.S. Constitution). The way that this clause is applicable to the marijuana debate is that it would give the federal government power over state in the decision of this issue because the growing and distribution of marijuana would be controlled. Interpreted this way, it would give the federal government the power to make medical marijuana legal or not. The Controlled Substances Act makes possession and use of marijuana illegal. Along with the Supremacy Clause from the Constitution which is; “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding” (U.S. Constitution), the government claims legal control over the issue because of its laws and clauses on the issue.
Even though the federal government maintains the most control over the legalization of medical marijuana, the state government can still bypass their laws. The first example of state legalizing medical marijuana is by California, the Compassionate Use Act, 1996. This act is “To ensure that seriously ill Californians have the right to obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes where that medical use is deemed appropriate and has been recommended by a physician” (Compassionate Use Act). After this, it would seem as though states have the ability and authority to legalize something such as marijuana for their citizens, going against the federal governments Controlled Substance Act (CSA). This is not proved to be the case, as shown in Gonzalez vs. Raich. The case involved two individuals, Raich and Monson, that had certified doctors prescribe them marijuana abiding by the Compassionate Use Act. County Sheriffs and Drug Enforcement Agency officers stormed their house and took possession of their marijuana and marijuana plants. The County Sheriffs found their possession to be legal but the cultivation was found to be illegal by the DEA agents. So, Raich took the case to court. The Supreme Court found the federal government to still have the power to prohibit the cultivation and possession of marijuana even over California’s law (Gostin).
Gonzalez vs. Raich showed that the federal government can step over a state’s law to do what it finds appropriate concerning the legalization of medical marijuana. Is this how it should be? In the Raich case, the accused wouldn’t have had their cannabis taken away if the DEA agents were not present because the Sheriffs found the drugs to be lawful. As there are more state police, county police, and city police than there are DEA agents, it would be safe to say that citizens are found with marijuana and let go because of state law. So why should states have to undermine federal law and have confusion when there is case like Gonzalez vs. Raich? Why couldn’t the federal government give states the power to make a decision on this? The states that have made it legal have gone forward on the issue without trouble. Trouble would be saved for the citizens, state officials, and DEA agents and so on if Congress would just give the power to the states to make their own decisions.
This powerful tool we have called government must be placed in the right hands to be used properly. Clearly, federal government has an overbearing power on the issue of legalizing medical marijuana, when it can catch it, but this creates confusion for everyone when states make laws going against the federal grain. The power of the federal government shouldn’t contradict state laws, states are going to make laws, so the federal government should give them the power. Tools meant for one hand shouldn’t be used by two and there needs to be a division of power to end this confusion.