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By Joel A. Harrison, PhD, MPH

October 25, 2011 (San Diego)--The citizens of California voted to legalize medical marijuana, but the feds are now raiding our local shops. As a disclaimer, I have never used marijuana or any other recreational drug; but see its value in alleviating human suffering.
In a comprehensive review of the science the prestigious Institute of Medicine found that marijuana does alleviate several medical problems: “Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base” (1999) and the following year published a version for the general public: “Marijuana As Medicine? The Science Beyond the Controversy (2000).” Subsequent research has only strengthened the IOM findings.  

However, I am not writing about the pros and cons of medical marijuana; but about our Constitution.

The only crimes covered by the U.S. Constitution are: Article 1 Section 8. “To provide for the Punishment of counterfeiting the Securities and current Coin of the United States;’ “To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offenses against the Law of Nations;” and Article III Section 3. “The Congress shall have Power to declare the Punishment of Treason.” The tenth Amendment states: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Traditionally criminal justice has been a state matter with the caveat of protections accorded by the Bill of Rights.
Over the years the federal government has taken on ever more powers regarding criminal acts through application of the Interstate Commerce Clause (Article 1 Section 8): “The Congress shall have Power . . . To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States.” An excellent book with direct application to medical marijuana and the ever broader encroachment of Federal power is James Morone’s “Hellfire Nation: The Politics of Sin in American History.”
The meaning of the Interstate Commerce clause should be quite clear in that something must cross state lines. I am neither a lawyer nor a Constitutional scholar; but it seems to me if marijuana is grown within the state of California and the home grown marijuana is sold within the state, the Interstate Commerce clause should not apply! This should be a rallying cry for Conservatives who champion state’s rights and for liberals who champion the rights of the individual.
Joel A. Harrison, PhD, MPH, a native San Diegan, is a semi-retired epidemiologist.  He has worked in the areas of preventive medicine, infectious diseases, medical outcomes research, and evidence-based clinical practice guidelines. He is currently active in supporting the adoption of a single-payer health care system in the U.S. For more information on single-payer go to Physicians for a National Health Program’s website at The views in this editorial reflect those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of East County Magazine. To submit an editorial for consideration, contact


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