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Winning the War on Helpless Invalids


We were always under the impression that the only thing the conservative right cherished more than the war on drugs was the concept of states' rights. We were wrong. The Supreme Court ruled 6 to 3 on Monday that people who smoke pot because their doctors recommend it to ease pain can be prosecuted for violating federal drug laws, trumping medical marijuana laws in 10 states-including Idaho's neighbors Oregon, Montana, Washington and Nevada. Now, even if your state actively supports your last dance with Mary Jane, your house can be raided by federal agents.

In passing the judgment, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote that the court was not moralizing on the potential benefits of cannabis-despite the Bush administration's push for tougher marijuana laws. Instead, Stevens said that the judgment was a matter of-ahem-interstate commerce.

"The regulation [of cannabis] is squarely within Congress' commerce power because production of the commodity meant for home consumption, be it wheat or marijuana, has a substantial effect on supply and demand in the national market for that commodity," Stevens wrote in the judgment.

Specifically at issue was whether a pair of chronically ill California women, suffering from a collection of maladies including scoliosis, brain cancer, chronic nausea and degenerative spine disease, could grow their own marijuana plants. Both women insisted that their marijuana was grown locally with local materials, and at no time crossed the state borders necessary to trigger commerce-clause authority.

Dissenter Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote that she would not have voted to legalize marijuana in the states, but saw the Supreme Court's duty as upholding the fundamental distribution of power within America's federalist system of government-including states' power to experiment. While lawyers in the affected states have insisted that cannabis users will face little more threat of prosecution after the judgment than before, Justice Department spokespersons have refused to announce whether they will aggressively pursue cases against individual users.