Since 1996, California and 11 other states have passed laws that ease or eliminate sanctions for the medicinal use of marijuana. The federal government says it still has the right to prosecute patients who use it because federal law considers pot a harmful drug without proved medical benefits, says USA Today. On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court takes up a question that a growing number of medical marijuana users say is critical to their physical well-being and that the federal government says is important to its war against illegal drugs: When it comes to pot and patients, does federal or state law rule?
Despite the federal war on drugs, marijuana remains a big illegal business. In 2000, Americans bought about $10.5 billion worth of marijuana from drug dealers, says an estimate by the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Last year, the FBI recorded 755,286 marijuana arrests – an all-time high. Most arrests were for simple possession. Medical marijuana users won in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, based in San Francisco. In a 2-1 decision, the appeals court found that using federal drug law to trump California’s medical pot provision is an overreach that is “likely unconstitutional” In briefs filed with the Supreme Court, the Justice Department argues that the Constitution’s allowing the federal government to regulate interstate commerce permits it to trump any state law that permits drug use.