An evolving Supreme Court tackles constitutional questions: Gonzales v. Raich

Marijuana is a hot-button topic in the United States; social and political conversations between the right and left pit moral values against potential economic benefits. As states such as Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington legalize marijuana, the question being discussed is, why shouldn’t we? Within the first few years of marijuana being legalized in Colorado and Washington, tax revenues have been astronomical, even exceeding projections made at the beginning of the fiscal year. It is estimated that California would make over a billion dollars annually in tax revenue if the taxing and regulation of marijuana trade were made legal.

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graphic by Keri Zhang

The Supreme Court’s six to three ruling in Gonzales v. Raich was that under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, Congress can make growing and using medical and recreational marijuana illegal, even in states that have approved it for medicinal purposes. In his dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas declared that the two people to which the case pertained had never bought or sold marijuana and the drug certainly never crossed state lines. As the marijuana in question “has had no demonstrable effect on the national market,” it should not be criminalized because allowing Congress to regulate cases such as this would be an overextension of their constitutional abilities.

Critics arguing against its legalization assert that marijuana is a drug and therefore is dangerous to consume—although numerous studies prove the opposite. Studies from Cambridge University show that a human could tolerate swallowing up to 70 grams of Tetrahydrocannabinol, the main ingredient found in cannabis, which is 5,000 times the required amount to experience a high. Other studies have shown a positive medicinal effect in that it can decrease anxiety, slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, decrease the side-effects of nausea during chemotherapy, and increase appetite in HIV and AIDS victims.

A major issue with marijuana being illegal lies in the fact that so many “offenders” are incarcerated for mere possession without intent to distribute. In 2014, 700,000 arrests were made relating to marijuana violations with 88 percent of these arrests occurring as a result of marijuana possession. As incarceration rates go up, associated costs will increase as well. Between the cost of housing the largest amount of prisoners of any country in the world and waging the War on Drugs, billions of dollars are going to waste in the United States since people are afraid of a drug that is less harmful and less addictive than substances like tobacco and alcohol.

In reality, there are few legitimate arguments against marijuana to prohibit either its recreational or medicinal use. The real issue is the waste of resources when it comes to enforcing the law. Policy and reform start with the people so it is time to take a closer look at why marijuana continues to be dismissed as a “toxic drug,” and why so many misunderstand it.

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