August 13, 2008
Medical Marijuana, Individual Autonomy, and State Authority: The Reclamation of Rights
In recent years, the debate over medical marijuana has become increasingly contentious and highly polarized. Patients, medical practitioners, citizens, lawyers, politicians, and lobbyists, to name a few, have joined the processes of deliberation and legislative activism; some advocate for the primacy of patient rights, while others stress points of medical research, state oversight, or federal supremacy. These points of advocacy intertwine, overlap, and inherently conflict, and, as such, legislative measures intended to resolve the debate seem only to inflame it. While state-based legislation, in places like California, Vermont, and Rhode Island, seeks to regulate medical marijuana – and to protect patient rights of autonomy and practitioner rights of discretion, the federal government claims legal jurisdiction and authority. As such, medical marijuana is classified as an illegal substance, in accordance with the Federal Controlled Substance Act of 1970, and patients, practitioners, and states are deprived of their respective prerogatives regarding medical oversight. Though federal enforcement of medical marijuana prohibition is, unfortunately and unwaveringly, common, it represents a seizure of localized power and a gross expansion of federalism. The autonomy and privacy of citizens, particularly ill citizens seeking liberty in the most personal matters (those of physical health and medical treatment), is circumvented by federal intervention; the ability of state legislatures to fulfill their constitutionally endowed powers of oversight is severely impeded. Ultimately, the federal prohibition of medical marijuana [under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970] represents a centralized abuse of power in that (1) it violates individual rights of personal autonomy and privacy, as defined by the Due Process Clause and (2) it violates states’ rights to legislative authority and oversight, as defined by the Commerce Clause. It is my intention, in the following paper, to examine the aforementioned violations; so, too, will I contend that federal drug enforcement manifestly infringes upon patients, practitioners, citizens, and states: On the rights of individuals to recommend and/or to pursue courses of medical treatment that they deem fit, that preserve their dignity, that place premium upon the tenet of compassionate care; on the rights of states, and their citizens, to determine how to treat and/or classify medical marijuana. Arguably, individual rights in matters of individual determination (i.e. medical treatment), as defined through a constitutional purview, are the basis of autonomy, privacy, and freedom. These principles extend to the authority of states, and to the complimentary and subsequent limits of federal power, in order to preserve a balanced and sustainable political environment. The issue of medical marijuana may appear to affect only a small portion of the populous, but – as I hope to illustrate – it represents a federal encroachment on the most basic American tenets and a violation of our most valuable constitutional endowments. The Federal Controlled Substances Act vs. Medical Marijuana
The Federal Controlled Substances Act of 1970 (FCSA) represents the greatest obstacle to protective, state-based medical marijuana legislation, in that it prohibits and makes patients and practitioners liable for prescription, provision, or procurement of the drug (U.S. Department of Justice, 1). The FCSA classifies marijuana as a Schedule I substance; such substances – according to the U.S. Department of Justice website, where the FCSA is provided in its entirety – have “high potential for abuse,” “lack of accepted safety for use… under medical supervision,” and “no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States” (U.S. Department of Justice, 1). Schedule I substances...