I keep seeing tweets and Facebook posts today about the Supreme Court refusing to make the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) review and reclassify marijuana as something other than a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 (CSA). I believe as much as the next activist that the classification is bullshit and it needs to be changed. I also think that it is good propaganda for the cause and a useful tool to get people fired up by giving them someone to blame who doesn’t defend themselves. But at the end of the day, I always come back to the importance of truth in reporting.
First of all, let’s be clear. The Court did not deny the writ of certiorari (a fancy and Latin way of saying a request for a case to be heard) because they looked at it and said we don’t want to help these stoners. According to SupremeCourt.gov (the Court’s official website), the court receives around 10,000 of these writs per year. They only have the time to hear about 75-80. The Supreme Court did not single out this case, look at the merits and say we don’t feel like listening to this one because we don’t agree with the politics. When the media says the appeal was declined, what they actually mean is that the Court’s new term started and they just published their docket and this case isn’t on there. Along with this case are roughly 99,925 other cases that didn’t make the cut because the Court either agreed with the lower court’s decision or did not feel it is a situation they could resolve.
Members of the Court gather to decide what cases are heard and their job in their capacity as a Court of Appeal is to determine points of law, not facts and merits. In other words, petitioners cannot argue to a Court of Appeal that they should change the ruling because they know in their heart and head that it was wrongly decided. Appeals court judges are not even supposed to consider the merits at all, except as it applies to the point of law being argued.
A Court of Appeal is there to hear arguments such as “Did the judge in the original trial act incorrectly by letting in evidence not allowed under rules of evidence?” or “Does the law that this person has broken violate that person’s Due Process rights under the 14th Amendment?” (and trust me, that’s a very much more complicated question than it seems). When these cases are argued, weight is given to whether the law is unconstitutional and, if not, did the government act in a way consistent with the statutes were already put in place by the Legislature. The courts can’t just do what they want, regardless of how the media often portrays it when they do not act. They have strict rules.
The District Court, Court of Appeals and Supreme Court all acted correctly under the mandate they were given by the Constitution and the Legislature. The DEA is not answerable to the courts in this case. The courts aren’t permitted to force a change in the law, no matter how wrong that law may seem unless it violates the Constitution or current statutes, which denying a request to review the law doesn’t. The Legislature acted correctly in their capacity to create the law (even though it’s a piece of crap) and the DEA doesn’t get to decide which laws to enforce. Even when a law is found to be unconstitutional, they will remove the law to be re-written, but the Court still can’t change it to say what they think is right. The Legislature (your good old Congressmen/women and Senators) is charged with writing and changing laws. They are the only ones who can change the classification under the CSA, which is what the DEA uses to determine how they act. We need to be blaming and fighting the right people.
People like to wail about the Supreme Court because they are an easy target. They never have to defend themselves, so most of the time they don’t. Justices are appointed to life terms. It’s extremely difficult to force one out before they are ready to retire. However, they do the job they are intended to do very well most of the time. Misleading people to believe that the Supreme Court could help them and refuses doesn’t help matters any. We just have more misinformed citizens. The government has done enough of that already, I’d say.
So write to your politicians and tell them they need to do the right thing and strongly push for clinical trials and help elect new politicians who will listen to our compassionate and completely reasonable plea. Spend your energy doing this, not wailing about the Court.
Only fight for the things you can change. Otherwise you’re just banging your head against a brick wall.
Please smoke (and protest) responsibly,