Wednesday, November 4, 2020
After big (red) marijuana reforms, is it time for a Raich 2.0 challenge to federal marijuana prohibition?
Eighteen years ago, Angel Raich and her co-plaintiffs filed this complaint that argued that federal marijuana prohibition was unconstitutional on multiple theories. She claimed not only that federal marijuana prohibition exceeded Congress's authority under the Commerce Clause, but also that it violated the Fifth, Ninth and Tenth Amendments. A few years later, the Supreme Court took up and rejected only the Commerce Clause claim 6-3 in Gonzales v. Raich, 545 U.S. 1 (2005). In light of the remarkable and continuing nationwide citizen support for ending marijuana prohibition, I think it is time to consider a renewed constitutional attack on federal prohibition, a Raich 2.0, that renews these claims and adds one under the Eighth Amendment.
Notably, the Court's composition has changed dramatically since its ruling in Raich, with only Justice Breyer remaining from the Court's majority and only Justice Thomas remaining from the Raich dissent. Among the new Justices, there is a reasonable basis to speculate that at least two Justices (Justices Gorsuch and Barrett) and perhaps as many as four Justices (add in Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kavanuagh) might be inclined to join Justice Thomas to reconsider the Commerce Clause ruling in Raich.
These same groups of Justices might likewise be inclined, perhaps, to breathe some life into the Ninth and Tenth Amendments in this context. One might further speculate that Justices Breyer, Kagan and Sotomayor might be open to considering a Fifth Amendment claim in this content. And, given established precedent that the Eighth Amendment "must draw its meaning from the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society," Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. 86, 110 (1958), and that "the modern practices of the States ... are indicative of our 'evolving standards of decency'," Ford v. Wainwright, 477 U.S. 399, 419 (1986), I believe the dramatic modern state medical and recreational marijuana reform could make at least some enforcement of federal marijuana prohibition problematic under the Eighth Amendment.
I am not here seeking to assert that a federal constitutional challenge to federal marijuana prohibition will be sure to prevail on any of these fronts. But a whole lot has changed quite dramatically since the ruling in Gonzales v. Raich, 545 U.S. 1 (2005), including a bunch of red state reforms via voters this election cycle. All these changes lead me to continue to wonder if and when we might soon see an effective effort to renew constitutional challenges to federal marijuana prohibitions.