David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected], 10/11/02
This past week, two of California's most vulnerable but most determined took a stand for the rights of Americans under the US Constitution. Angel McClary Raich, who suffers from brain cancer and uses marijuana to relieve pain, nausea and loss of appetite, and Diane Monson, a patient who uses marijuana for relief from chronic back pain, have sued the US Dept. of Justice and its violent anti-drug agency, the DEA, for violating the Constitution's Interstate Commerce Clause.
The constitutional violation is clear: Congress may regulate interstate commerce, the clause says, and that is the purported basis of federal drug laws. But there is simply no reasonable interpretation of "interstate commerce" that includes a ban on the growing of marijuana by patients for medical use, nor of the growing and supplying of marijuana inside a given state to patients who need it.
It's really very simple: Interstate commerce by definition means commercial activity involving people in more than one state. Intra-state commerce -- activity within a given state -- is not interstate commerce, by definition. And personal cultivation and consumption aren't even commerce. Therefore, the Interstate Commerce Clause does not apply to intra-state activities, because they are not interstate! What part of "interstate" does the DEA not understand?
It's an understandably uncomfortable issue for the DEA. The same line of reasoning renders federal drug prohibition unconstitutional in its entirety, which in turn makes the DEA's very existence an illegal act. At most the federal government might have a role in assisting states in enforcing their individual drug laws in cases where a given drug operation crossed state lines. And even that's kind of sketchy.
But given the unconstitutionality of federal drug prohibition overall, and the consequent illegality of the DEA's existence, use of medical marijuana by patients and the supply of it to them by local cooperatives must fall far outside of the federal government's purview by any reasonable reading of that clause inscribed in the Constitution long ago -- interstate commerce, and regulation thereof -- not prohibition of private intra-state decisions made by consenting adults.
The violation is a particularly terrible one, with scope reaching even beyond states' rights and democracy. Patients of all people, trying to make the best of difficult circumstances and eke out whatever quality of life they can for themselves and their families, should not subjected to raids by armed agents of the state. Patients should not subjected to denial of medicine. Patients should be protected by all means from the cruelty of the DEA law enforcement bureaucracy with its savage political and budgetary objectives.
So the patients and their supporters are saying something that shouldn't even have to be said. As their attorney, Robert Raich, told an assembled press conference, "The government has waged a civil war against sick, disabled and dying Americans." No constitution is needed to see that that civil war is evil on its face. It is time for all good people to demand its halt. Raich and Monson have made just claims.