GONZALES V. RAICH

545 U.S. 1; 125 S. Ct. 2195; 162 L. Ed. 2d 1 (2005)

Vote: 6-3

In this case the Court considers whether the power to regulate interstate commerce allows Congress to prohibit individuals from cultivating small amount of marijuana for personal medical use, notwithstanding a state law allowing it. Not only does the case involve the scope of federal power over individuals, it has important implications for the system of federalism.

 

Justice Stevens delivered the opinion of the Court.

            … In 1996, California voters passed Proposition 215, now codified as the Compassionate Use Act of 1996. … The Act creates an exemption from criminal prosecution for physicians, as well as for patients and primary caregivers who possess or cultivate marijuana for medicinal purposes with the recommendation or approval of a physician. …

 

Respondents Angel Raich and Diane Monson are California residents who suffer from a variety of serious medical conditions and have sought to avail themselves of medical marijuana pursuant to the terms of the Compassionate Use Act. …

 

Respondent Monson cultivates her own marijuana, and ingests the drug in a variety of ways including smoking and using a vaporizer. Respondent Raich, by contrast, is unable to cultivate her own, and thus relies on two caregivers, litigating as “John Does,” to provide her with locally grown marijuana at no charge. …

 

On August 15, 2002, county deputy sheriffs and agents from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) came to Monson’s home. After a thorough investigation, the county officials concluded that her use of marijuana was entirely lawful as a matter of California law. Nevertheless, after a 3-hour standoff, the federal agents seized and destroyed all six of her cannabis plants.

 

Respondents thereafter brought this action against the Attorney General of the United States and the head of the DEA seeking injunctive and declaratory relief prohibiting the enforcement of the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA), to the extent it prevents them from possessing, obtaining, or manufacturing cannabis for their personal medical use. Respondents claimed that enforcing the CSA against them would violate the Commerce Clause, the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, the Ninth and Tenth Amendments of the Constitution, and the doctrine of medical necessity.

 

The District Court denied respondents’ motion for a preliminary injunction. Although the court found that the federal enforcement interests “wane[d]” when compared to the harm that California residents would suffer if denied access to medically necessary marijuana, it concluded that respondents could not demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits of their legal claims.

 

A divided panel of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed and ordered the District Court to enter a preliminary injunction. The court found that respondents had “demonstrated a strong likelihood of success on their claim that, as applied to them, the CSA is an unconstitutional exercise of Congress’ Commerce Clause authority.” The Court of Appeals distinguished prior Circuit cases upholding the CSA in the face of Commerce Clause challenges by focusing on what it deemed to be the “separate and distinct class of activities” at issue in this case: “the intrastate, noncommercial cultivation and possession of cannabis for personal medical purposes as recommended by a patient’s physician pursuant to valid California state law.” The court found the latter class of activities “different in kind from drug trafficking” because interposing a physician’s recommendation raises different health and safety concerns, and because “this limited use is clearly distinct from the broader illicit drug market--as well as any broader commercial market for medicinal marijuana--insofar as the medicinal marijuana at issue in this case is not intended for, nor does it enter, the stream of commerce.”

 

The majority placed heavy reliance on our decisions in United States v. Lopez (1995), and United States v. Morrison (2000) … to hold that this separate class of purely local activities was beyond the reach of federal power. In contrast, the dissenting judge concluded that the CSA, as applied to respondents, was clearly valid under Lopez and Morrison; moreover, he thought it “simply impossible to distinguish the relevant conduct surrounding the cultivation and use of the marijuana crop at issue in this case from the cultivation and use of the wheat crop that affected interstate commerce in Wickard v. Filburn [1942].

 

The obvious importance of the case prompted our grant of certiorari. The case is made difficult by respondents’ strong arguments that they will suffer irreparable harm because, despite a congressional finding to the contrary, marijuana does have valid therapeutic purposes. The question before us, however, is not whether it is wise to enforce the statute in these circumstances; rather, it is whether Congress’ power to regulate interstate markets for medicinal substances encompasses the portions of those markets that are supplied with drugs produced and consumed locally. Well-settled law controls our answer. The CSA is a valid exercise of federal power, even as applied to the troubling facts of this case. We accordingly vacate the judgment of the Court of Appeals. …

 

In enacting the CSA, Congress classified marijuana as a Schedule I drug. … Schedule I drugs are categorized as such because of their high potential for abuse, lack of any accepted medical use, and absence of any accepted safety for use in medically supervised treatment. … By classifying marijuana as a Schedule I drug, as opposed to listing it on a lesser schedule, the manufacture, distribution, or possession of marijuana became a criminal offense, with the sole exception being use of the drug as part of a Food and Drug Administration pre-approved research study.

 

Respondents in this case do not dispute that passage of the CSA, as part of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act, was well within Congress’ commerce power. Nor do they contend that any provision or section of the CSA amounts to an unconstitutional exercise of congressional authority. Rather, respondents’ challenge is actually quite limited; they argue that the CSA’s categorical prohibition of the manufacture and possession of marijuana as applied to the intrastate manufacture and possession of marijuana for medical purposes pursuant to California law exceeds Congress’ authority under the Commerce Clause. …

 

Cases decided during that “new era” [of Commerce Clause cases,] which now spans more than a century, have identified three general categories of regulation in which Congress is authorized to engage under its commerce power. First, Congress can regulate the channels of interstate commerce. Second, Congress has authority to regulate and protect the instrumentalities of interstate commerce, and persons or things in interstate commerce. Third, Congress has the power to regulate activities that substantially affect interstate commerce. Only the third category is implicated in the case at hand.

 

Our case law firmly establishes Congress’ power to regulate purely local activities that are part of an economic “class of activities” that have a substantial effect on interstate commerce. As we stated in Wickard, “even if appellee’s activity be local and though it may not be regarded as commerce, it may still, whatever its nature, be reached by Congress if it exerts a substantial economic effect on interstate commerce.” We have never required Congress to legislate with scientific exactitude. When Congress decides that the “‘total incidence’“ of a practice poses a threat to a national market, it may regulate the entire class. In this vein, we have reiterated that when “‘a general regulatory statute bears a substantial relation to commerce, the de minimis character of individual instances arising under that statute is of no consequence.’“

 

Our decision in Wickard is of particular relevance. In Wickard, we upheld the application of regulations promulgated under the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938, which were designed to control the volume of wheat moving in interstate and foreign commerce in order to avoid surpluses and consequent abnormally low prices. The regulations established an allotment of 11.1 acres for Filburn’s 1941 wheat crop, but he sowed 23 acres, intending to use the excess by consuming it on his own farm. Filburn argued that even though we had sustained Congress’ power to regulate the production of goods for commerce, that power did not authorize “federal regulation [of] production not intended in any part for commerce but wholly for consumption on the farm.” Justice Jackson’s opinion for a unanimous Court rejected this submission. He wrote:


“The effect of the statute before us is to restrict the amount which may be produced for market and the extent as well to which one may forestall resort to the market by producing to meet his own needs. That appellee’s own contribution to the demand for wheat may be trivial by itself is not enough to remove him from the scope of federal regulation where, as here, his contribution, taken together with that of many others similarly situated, is far from trivial.”


            Wickard thus establishes that Congress can regulate purely intrastate activity that is not itself “commercial,” in that it is not produced for sale, if it concludes that failure to regulate that class of activity would undercut the regulation of the interstate market in that commodity.

 

The similarities between this case and Wickard are striking. Like the farmer in Wickard, respondents are cultivating, for home consumption, a fungible commodity for which there is an established, albeit illegal, interstate market. Just as the Agricultural Adjustment Act was designed “to control the volume [of wheat] moving in interstate and foreign commerce in order to avoid surpluses ...” and consequently control the market price, a primary purpose of the CSA is to control the supply and demand of controlled substances in both lawful and unlawful drug markets. In Wickard, we had no difficulty concluding that Congress had a rational basis for believing that, when viewed in the aggregate, leaving home-consumed wheat outside the regulatory scheme would have a substantial influence on price and market conditions. Here too, Congress had a rational basis for concluding that leaving home-consumed marijuana outside federal control would similarly affect price and market conditions.

 

More concretely, one concern prompting inclusion of wheat grown for home consumption in the 1938 Act was that rising market prices could draw such wheat into the interstate market, resulting in lower market prices. The parallel concern making it appropriate to include marijuana grown for home consumption in the CSA is the likelihood that the high demand in the interstate market will draw such marijuana into that market. While the diversion of homegrown wheat tended to frustrate the federal interest in stabilizing prices by regulating the volume of commercial transactions in the interstate market, the diversion of homegrown marijuana tends to frustrate the federal interest in eliminating commercial transactions in the interstate market in their entirety. In both cases, the regulation 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. …

 

To support their contrary submission, respondents rely heavily on two of our more recent Commerce Clause cases. In their myopic focus, they overlook the larger context of modern-era Commerce Clause jurisprudence preserved by those cases. Moreover, even in the narrow prism of respondents’ creation, they read those cases far too broadly.

 

Those two cases, of course, are [U.S. v.] Lopez [1995] and [U.S. v.]  Morrison [2000]. As an initial matter, the statutory challenges at issue in those cases were markedly different from the challenge respondents pursue in the case at hand. Here, respondents ask us to excise individual applications of a concededly valid statutory scheme. In contrast, in both Lopez and Morrison, the parties asserted that a particular statute or provision fell outside Congress’ commerce power in its entirety. This distinction is pivotal for we have often reiterated that “[w]here the class of activities is regulated and that class is within the reach of federal power, the courts have no power ‘to excise, as trivial, individual instances’ of the class.” …

 

Unlike those at issue in Lopez and Morrison, the activities regulated by the CSA are quintessentially economic. … The CSA is a statute that regulates the production, distribution, and consumption of commodities for which there is an established, and lucrative, interstate market. Prohibiting the intrastate possession or manufacture of an article of commerce is a rational (and commonly utilized) means of regulating commerce in that product. Such prohibitions include specific decisions requiring that a drug be withdrawn from the market as a result of the failure to comply with regulatory requirements as well as decisions excluding Schedule I drugs entirely from the market. Because the CSA is a statute that directly regulates economic, commercial activity, our opinion in Morrison casts no doubt on its constitutionality.

 

The Court of Appeals was able to conclude otherwise only by isolating a “separate and distinct” class of activities that it held to be beyond the reach of federal power, defined as “the intrastate, noncommercial cultivation, possession and use of marijuana for personal medical purposes on the advice of a physician and in accordance with state law.” The court characterized this class as “different in kind from drug trafficking.” The differences between the members of a class so defined and the principal traffickers in Schedule I substances might be sufficient to justify a policy decision exempting the narrower class from the coverage of the CSA. The question, however, is whether Congress’ contrary policy judgment, i.e., its decision to include this narrower “class of activities” within the larger regulatory scheme, was constitutionally deficient. We have no difficulty concluding that Congress acted rationally in determining that none of the characteristics making up the purported class, whether viewed individually or in the aggregate, compelled an exemption from the CSA; rather, the subdivided class of activities defined by the Court of Appeals was an essential part of the larger regulatory scheme. …

 

The exemption for cultivation by patients and caregivers can only increase the supply of marijuana in the California market. The likelihood that all such production will promptly terminate when patients recover or will precisely match the patients’ medical needs during their convalescence seems remote; whereas the danger that excesses will satisfy some of the admittedly enormous demand for recreational use seems obvious. Moreover, that the national and international narcotics trade has thrived in the face of vigorous criminal enforcement efforts suggests that no small number of unscrupulous people will make use of the California exemptions to serve their commercial ends whenever it is feasible to do so. Taking into account the fact that California is only one of at least nine States to have authorized the medical use of marijuana, …Congress could have rationally concluded that the aggregate impact on the national market of all the transactions exempted from federal supervision is unquestionably substantial.

 

So, from the “separate and distinct” class of activities identified by the Court of Appeals (and adopted by the dissenters), we are left with “the intrastate, noncommercial cultivation, possession and use of marijuana.” Thus the case for the exemption comes down to the claim that a locally cultivated product that is used domestically rather than sold on the open market is not subject to federal regulation.  Given the findings in the CSA and the undisputed magnitude of the commercial market for marijuana, our decision[] in Wickard v. Filburn … foreclose[s] that claim. …


Justice Scalia, concurring in the judgment.

            I agree with the Court’s holding that the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) may validly be applied to respondents’ cultivation, distribution, and possession of marijuana for personal, medicinal use. …

 

Our cases show that the regulation of intrastate activities may be necessary to and proper for the regulation of interstate commerce in two general circumstances. Most directly, the commerce power permits Congress not only to devise rules for the governance of commerce between States but also to facilitate interstate commerce by eliminating potential obstructions, and to restrict it by eliminating potential stimulants. …

 

            As we implicitly acknowledged in Lopez, however, Congress’s authority to enact laws necessary and proper for the regulation of interstate commerce is not limited to laws directed against economic activities that have a substantial effect on interstate commerce. Though the conduct in Lopez was not economic, the Court nevertheless recognized that it could be regulated as “an essential part of a larger regulation of economic activity, in which the regulatory scheme could be undercut unless the intrastate activity were regulated.” This statement referred to those cases permitting the regulation of intrastate activities “which in a substantial way interfere with or obstruct the exercise of the granted power.” …[W]here Congress has the authority to enact a regulation of interstate commerce, “it possesses every power needed to make that regulation effective.” …

 

… In the CSA, Congress has undertaken to extinguish the interstate market in Schedule I controlled substances, including marijuana. The Commerce Clause unquestionably permits this. The power to regulate interstate commerce “extends not only to those regulations which aid, foster and protect the commerce, but embraces those which prohibit it.” To effectuate its objective, Congress has prohibited almost all intrastate activities related to Schedule I substances--both economic activities (manufacture, distribution, possession with the intent to distribute) and noneconomic activities (simple possession). That simple possession is a noneconomic activity is immaterial to whether it can be prohibited as a necessary part of a larger regulation. Rather, Congress’s authority to enact all of these prohibitions of intrastate controlled-substance activities depends only upon whether they are appropriate means of achieving the legitimate end of eradicating Schedule I substances from interstate commerce.

 

By this measure, I think the regulation must be sustained. Not only is it impossible to distinguish “controlled substances manufactured and distributed intrastate” from “controlled substances manufactured and distributed interstate,” but it hardly makes sense to speak in such terms. Drugs like marijuana are fungible commodities. As the Court explains, marijuana that is grown at home and possessed for personal use is never more than an instant from the interstate market--and this is so whether or not the possession is for medicinal use or lawful use under the laws of a particular State. Congress need not accept on faith that state law will be effective in maintaining a strict division between a lawful market for “medical” marijuana and the more general marijuana market. “To impose on [Congress] the necessity of resorting to means which it cannot control, which another government may furnish or withhold, would render its course precarious, the result of its measures uncertain, and create a dependence on other governments, which might disappoint its most important designs, and is incompatible with the language of the constitution.” …

            Finally, neither respondents nor the dissenters suggest any violation of state sovereignty of the sort that would render this regulation “inappropriate”--except to argue that the CSA regulates an area typically left to state regulation. That is not enough to render federal regulation an inappropriate means. The Court has repeatedly recognized that, if authorized by the commerce power, Congress may regulate private endeavors “even when [that regulation] may pre-empt express state-law determinations contrary to the result which has commended itself to the collective wisdom of Congress.” … At bottom, respondents’ state-sovereignty argument reduces to the contention that federal regulation of the activities permitted by California’s Compassionate Use Act is not sufficiently necessary to be “necessary and proper” to Congress’s regulation of the interstate market. For the reasons given above and in the Court’s opinion, I cannot agree. 

 

I thus agree with the Court that, however the class of regulated activities is subdivided, Congress could reasonably conclude that its objective of prohibiting marijuana from the interstate market “could be undercut” if those activities were excepted from its general scheme of regulation. That is sufficient to authorize the application of the CSA to respondents.


Justice O’Connor, with whom the Chief Justice and Justice Thomas join…, dissenting.

 

We enforce the “outer limits” of Congress’ Commerce Clause authority not for their own sake, but to protect historic spheres of state sovereignty from excessive federal encroachment and thereby to maintain the distribution of power fundamental to our federalist system of government. One of federalism’s chief virtues, of course, is that it promotes innovation by allowing for the possibility that “a single courageous State may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.”

 

This case exemplifies the role of States as laboratories. The States’ core police powers have always included authority to define criminal law and to protect the health, safety, and welfare of their citizens. Exercising those powers, California (by ballot initiative and then by legislative codification) has come to its own conclusion about the difficult and sensitive question of whether marijuana should be available to relieve severe pain and suffering. Today the Court sanctions an application of the federal Controlled Substances Act that extinguishes that experiment, without any proof that the personal cultivation, possession, and use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, if economic activity in the first place, has a substantial effect on interstate commerce and is therefore an appropriate subject of federal regulation. In so doing, the Court announces a rule that gives Congress a perverse incentive to legislate broadly pursuant to the Commerce Clause --nestling questionable assertions of its authority into comprehensive regulatory schemes--rather than with precision. That rule and the result it produces in this case are irreconcilable with our decisions in Lopez and Morrison. Accordingly I dissent. …

 

Our decision [in Lopez] about whether gun possession in school zones substantially affected interstate commerce turned on four considerations. First, we observed that our “substantial effects” cases generally have upheld federal regulation of economic activity that affected interstate commerce, but that § 922(q) was a criminal statute having “nothing to do with ‘commerce’ or any sort of economic enterprise.” … Second, we noted that the statute contained no express jurisdictional requirement establishing its connection to interstate commerce.

Third, we found telling the absence of legislative findings about the regulated conduct’s impact on interstate commerce. … Finally, we rejected as too attenuated the Government’s argument that firearm possession in school zones could result in violent crime which in turn could adversely affect the national economy. The Constitution, we said, does not tolerate reasoning that would “convert congressional authority under the Commerce Clause to a general police power of the sort retained by the States.” Later in Morrison, we relied on the same four considerations to hold that § 40302 of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 exceeded Congress’ authority under the Commerce Clause.

 

In my view, the case before us is materially indistinguishable from Lopez and Morrison when the same considerations are taken into account.

 

The Court’s principal means of distinguishing Lopez from this case is to observe that the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990 was a “brief, single-subject statute,” whereas the CSA is “a lengthy and detailed statute creating a comprehensive framework for regulating the production, distribution, and possession of five classes of ‘controlled substances.’“ Thus, according to the Court, it was possible in Lopez to evaluate in isolation the constitutionality of criminalizing local activity (there gun possession in school zones), whereas the local activity that the CSA targets (in this case cultivation and possession of marijuana for personal medicinal use) cannot be separated from the general drug control scheme of which it is a part. …

 

I cannot agree that our decision in Lopez contemplated such evasive or overbroad legislative strategies with approval. ... Lopez and Morrison did not indicate that the constitutionality of federal regulation depends on superficial and formalistic distinctions. ... If the Court always defers to Congress as it does today, little may be left to the notion of enumerated powers. …

 

 

Justice Thomas, dissenting.

 

Respondents Diane Monson and Angel Raich use marijuana that has never been bought or sold, that has never crossed state lines, and that has had no demonstrable effect on the national market for marijuana. If Congress can regulate this under the Commerce Clause, then it can regulate virtually anything--and the Federal Government is no longer one of limited and enumerated powers.

 

Respondents’ local cultivation and consumption of marijuana is not “Commerce ... among the several States.” By holding that Congress may regulate activity that is neither interstate nor commerce under the Interstate Commerce Clause, the Court abandons any attempt to enforce the Constitution’s limits on federal power. The majority supports this conclusion by invoking, without explanation, the Necessary and Proper Clause. Regulating respondents’ conduct, however, is not “necessary and proper for carrying into Execution” Congress’ restrictions on the interstate drug trade. Thus, neither the Commerce Clause nor the Necessary and Proper Clause grants Congress the power to regulate respondents’ conduct. …

 

[N]either in enacting the CSA nor in defending its application to respondents has the Government offered any obvious reason why banning medical marijuana use is necessary to stem the tide of interstate drug trafficking. Congress’ goal of curtailing the interstate drug trade would not plainly be thwarted if it could not apply the CSA to patients like Monson and Raich. That is, unless Congress’ aim is really to exercise police power of the sort reserved to the States in order to eliminate even the intrastate possession and use of marijuana. …

 

Even assuming the CSA’s ban on locally cultivated and consumed marijuana is “necessary,” that does not mean it is also “proper.” The means selected by Congress to regulate interstate commerce cannot be “prohibited” by, or inconsistent with the “letter and spirit” of, the Constitution. …

 

Even if Congress may regulate purely intrastate activity when essential to exercising some enumerated power, Congress may not use its incidental authority to subvert basic principles of federalism and dual sovereignty.

 

Here, Congress has encroached on States’ traditional police powers to define the criminal law and to protect the health, safety, and welfare of their citizens. Further, the Government’s rationale--that it may regulate the production or possession of any commodity for which there is an interstate market--threatens to remove the remaining vestiges of States’ traditional police powers. This would convert the Necessary and Proper Clause into precisely what Chief Justice Marshall did not envision, a “pretext ... for the accomplishment of objects not intrusted to the government.” …

 

The majority prevents States like California from devising drug policies that they have concluded provide much-needed respite to the seriously ill. It does so without any serious inquiry into the necessity for federal regulation or the propriety of “displac[ing] state regulation in areas of traditional state concern.” The majority’s rush to embrace federal power “is especially unfortunate given the importance of showing respect for the sovereign States that comprise our Federal Union.” Our federalist system, properly understood, allows California and a growing number of other States to decide for themselves how to safeguard the health and welfare of their citizens. I would affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals. I respectfully dissent.