Marijuana has been shown to be effective in treating cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, and a host of other diseases. But will a 2005 Supreme Court marijuana case save all of U.S. health care?
In an unprecedented three days of oral arguments, the Supreme Court is considering whether the Affordable Health Care Act violates the Commerce Clause.
Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3 of the Constitution gives Congress the power to “regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes.” The issue is whether Congress has the power to require the “individual mandate,” the rule that everyone must either purchase health insurance or pay a penalty.
The Commerce Clause has always been interpreted broadly, no more so than in the 2005 Supreme Court case Gonzales v. Raich. Raich was a seriously ill guy living in California, who had obtained a doctor’s recommendation to use medical marijuana under California state law. The federal Drug Enforcement Administration raided his house and destroyed his six pot plants. Raich sued, arguing that Congress didn’t have the constitutional authority to prevent him from growing marijuana on for his medical use on his own land. The Commerce Clause gives Congress the right to regulate commerce between the states, but this isn’t commerce, and it’s about as local as you can get.
Up to the Supreme Court it went, and despite the purely local nature of Raich’s activities, the Court ruled that Congress had the power to destroy his garden. It reasoned that while Raich’s plants were locally grown, he was like it or not part of a world-wide international commercial marijuana market. This ruling was a bitter disappointment to marijuana supporters, but there may be a golden lining. Uninsured people who get free health care affect interstate commerce because they are making the rest of us pay. A child is not turned away from an emergency room, but why should people who can buy health insurance put the cost on everyone else. It seems like the failure of people who can afford health insurance to purchase it affects commerce a lot more than Mr. Raich’s marijuana garden.