Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Sick Californians Can't Get Their Smoke On

Yesterday the Supreme Folk, aka the Supreme Court, handed down two decisions which wound up with a somewhat strange split in the majority/dissenters camp. The first decision dealt with the states' ability to legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes and the second involved the application of the Americans with Disabilities Act to cruise ships with foreign registration.

In the medical marijuana case, the Court agreed with the feds that US drug laws preempt state ballot initiatives which allow an ill individual to grow and use marijuana under a doctor's supervision. It was a 6-3 decision, with Chief Justice Rehnquist, Sandra Day O'Connor, and Clarence Thomas dissenting. The opinions can be read here. This isn't necessarily the end of the fight - the 9th Circuit and others may still hear other cases, so long as different constitutional issues are raised (this one dealt with Commerce Clause).

As for the ADA case, it was 5-4, with O'Connor, Thomas, and Rehnquist dissenting again, as well as Scalia. Ahh, Scalia. At first I was befuddled - how come the federal government could arrest a woman with a brain tumor for smoking the weed that she grew herself, but cruise ships that do business in the U.S. don't have to abide by the ADA? Then I realized it's because Scalia hates sick people, and it made more sense to me. You can read the opinions here.

And so now I shall speak to my current, albeit very short-lived respect for Clarence Thomas, my permanent and intense dislike for Justice Scalia, and whatever else I have to say on the matter. I generally disagree with Thomas - he tends to take strict textualism to the nth degree, but he very concisely points out that in this case, there was absolutely no passing of cannabis over state lines - both women who were parties to this case either grew their own marijuana or bought it from local growers. If, Thomas posited, Congress is allowed to control activities that occur only within a state, then they can regulate everything. As Thomas states, California isn't saying, "Hey everybody! Let's smoke! Wheeee!" (although with the state of California politics, they might do well to do that). California said, okay, let's allow this very small sub-class of people to utilize cannabis under tightly controlled rules regarding possession and cultivation. "Nothing suggests that California's controls are ineffective" he wrote. So why do the feds have a right to intercede? For once, I think Thomas has written a sharp and concise dissent. And unlike Scalia, he's sticking to what he always says regarding the Commerce Clause. And honestly, Sandra Day O'Connor did a nice job, too.

Scalia bitches and moans in his concurrence that it doesn't make sense to argue semantics about whether the MJ was grown in state because, hey, marijuana that is entirely produced and possessed within one state is two shakes away from the interstate market place. Thomas did a nice job deflecting that argument. You know, Scalia is much smarter than most people, myself included. But he frustrates the hell out of me when he claims to be all states' rights lovin'..... unless the states want to do something he doesn't agree with. I found his concurring opinion to be superfluous to the majority's opinion on the matter, and really, I think he's a great big hypocrite. I love it when he claims that the constitution ought to be applied exactly as written, throwing aside the idea of a living document, except here, where clearly the feds have a right to kick down Ms. Monson's door and destroy her cannabis plants. I thought Scalia was alllll about leaving shit up to the voters and the legislatures? I guess not.

On an end note, one of the women in the marijuana case was confined to a wheel-chair and was very ill with a brain tumor before her doctor prescribed her marijuana. The voters of California (who are seriously ballot-happy.... they need to be smacked or something) saw fit to allow this woman to grow and to smoke her weed without being harassed or arrested by the government. And do you know what the drug czar under Nixon and Ford told NPR the other day? He said that in his opinion, someone who grows marijuana and smokes it sounds more like an addict than a sick person under medical care. Yeah? And you sound more like an asshole than a drug-use expert.

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