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Optional Handout #4A:

You have been assigned to consider how the issue of medical marijuana illustrates controversy over federalism.

The other members of your group are:

Decide as a group who will have each of the following roles:

  • Discussion leader: This person will make sure that the group discussion is focused, and that all students are involved in the discussion and can contribute ideas.

  • Note taker: This person will be sure to record all ideas legibly.

  • Timekeeper: You have 15 minutes to complete this handout with your group and to prepare your presentation. The timekeeper should be sure to keep the work on schedule. He or she should also help the presenter stay on track for time.

  • Presenter: After your group discusses your answers, the presenter should be ready to give a three- to four-minute presentation about your group's decision.

NOTE: If your group has more than four students, you may add a second presenter and/or an artist to provide a visual aid for the spoken presentation.

After you have identified students to take each of these roles, read the information provided and answer the questions together as a group. At the end of your discussion, your group will present its findings to the class in a three- to four-minute presentation.

In 1996 the citizens of California approved a referendum called Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act. The law allowed citizens of the state to use marijuana for medicinal purposes after a doctor has concluded the use would benefit the patient's health. In turn, doctors would be protected from legal actions for prescribing a drug that is illegal. Federal drug law, the Controlled Substances Act, did not provide a similar exemption for critically ill people -- federal agents continued to investigate and prosecute people who possessed "medical" marijuana.

Ms. Angel Raich was a citizen of California and had a number of serious health problems, including an inoperable brain tumor, seizures, and chronic pain disorders. For approximately five years, Raich had been using marijuana. According to her physician, she had exhausted "essentially all other legal alternatives." Her medical condition prevented her from growing the marijuana; therefore Raich was dependent on two caregivers to grow it for her. Raich was joined in the lawsuit by Diane Monson, a California citizen with similar medical problems who grew her own marijuana.

In August 2002, deputies from the county sheriff's department came to Monson's home, along with agents from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). After an investigation, the county deputies decided the marijuana was legal under California's Compassionate Use Act. However, the county deputies and federal agents remained there for three hours while the county district attorney and U.S. Attorney argued over jurisdiction and applicable law. Eventually the DEA destroyed six marijuana plants belonging to Monson.

Because of the DEA raids resulting in the seizure of Monson's marijuana plants as a part of a federal search warrant and with a threat of federal criminal prosecution, Raich asked the federal district court to prohibit enforcement of federal drug laws against a person in her situation.

The district court denied ruled against Diane Monson, but the appellate court reversed the lower court, ruling that localized and noncommercial cultivation, sharing, possession, and use of marijuana under the direction of a physician was intrastate commerce and, therefore, beyond the power of Congress to regulate or prohibit. The case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Questions to Consider

Answer the following questions on a separate sheet of paper. The group should also take notes on the newsprint that has been provided.

1.) Provide a brief summary of the issue.

2.) Explain how the concept of federalism is evident in this issue.

3.) Look again at Handout #1: Federalism Classification Activity.

  • What do you think are the best arguments for Monson to make about the power of the state of California to make and enforce its own laws related to this case?

  • What do you think are the best arguments for the federal government to make about how its powers apply in this case?

4.) What position would you take on this issue? Is it the right of the federal or state governments to make a decision on this issue? Why?

5.) What do you think the Supreme Court decided in 2005?

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