Thomas Sowell

The Supreme Court's recent decision saying that the federal government can prosecute those using marijuana for medical purposes, even when state laws permit such use, has been seen by many as an issue of being for or against marijuana. But the real significance of this decision has little to do with marijuana and everything to do with the kind of government that we, our children, and our children's children are going to live under.

 The 10th Amendment to the Constitution says that all powers not granted to the federal government belong to the states or to the people. 

 Those who wrote the Constitution clearly understood that power is dangerous and needs to be limited by being separated -- separated not only into the three branches of the national government but also separated as between the whole national government, on the one hand, and the states and the people on the other.

 Too many people today judge court decisions by whether the court is "for" or "against" this or that policy. It is not the court's job to be for or against any policy but to apply the law.

 The question before the Supreme Court was not whether allowing the medicinal use of marijuana was a good policy or a bad policy. The legal question was whether Congress had the authority under the Constitution to regulate something that happened entirely within the boundaries of a given state.

 For decades, judges have allowed the federal government to expand its powers by saying that it was authorized by the Constitution to regulate "interstate commerce." But how can something that happens entirely within the borders of one state be called "interstate commerce"?

 Back in 1942, the Supreme Court authorized the vastly expanded powers of the federal government under Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration by declaring that a man who grew food for himself on his own land was somehow "affecting" prices of goods in interstate commerce and so the federal government had a right to regulate him.

 Stretching and straining the law this way means that anything the federal government wants to do can be given the magic label "interstate commerce" -- and the limits on federal power under the 10th Amendment vanish into thin air.

 Judicial activists love to believe that they can apply the law in a "nuanced" way, allowing the federal government to regulate some activities that do not cross state lines but not others. The problem is that Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's nuances are different from Justice Antonin Scalia's nuances -- not only in the medical marijuana case but in numerous other cases.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

Creators Syndicate