Tuesday, January 13, 2009

U.S. Supreme Court Decides Not To Decide

Sometimes what the U.S. Supreme Court doesn’t decide is as important as when it actually hands down a decision. But how, you might ask, can that be? If the U.S. Supreme Court doesn’t decide an issue, doesn’t that mean it’s still unresolved? The answer is, not necessarily.

It all started back in 2005 when local police arrested Felix Kha, a Garden Grove, CA citizen, for possession of marijuana and seized one-third of an ounce of the controlled substance from him. The charge was eventually dropped, since Mr. Kha was in compliance with California state medical marijuana laws. However the police refused to return his seized medicine. And that’s what got this judicial ball rolling.

You see the police, and the city which backed up the police’s position, believed that they would be in violation of federal law if they gave the seized marijuana back to its rightful owner. Or so they said. That’s in spite of a valid court order for the return of Mr. Kha’s marijuana. When Mr. Kha pressed for the return of his medicine, the city filed suit with the 4th District Court of Appeals. That appeal was unanimously rejected. You’d think that would have been the end of it, and the police would have just returned the seized property. But no. The city then asked the California Supreme Court to review the case. They also declined, so that definitely should have put an end to the matter once and for all.

But no. Not to be deterred by two decisions not to review their appeal, the city of Garden Grove took their case to the U.S. Supreme Court. Funny thing, the U.S. Supreme Court also declined to hear the case. Fortunately for Mr. Kha, there are no more alternatives for the city of Garden Grove. Case closed. Period. End of discussion. The seized property must be returned. So now what?

Well, the city of Garden Grove spent $80,000 in their pursuit of this case. That amount may increase even more if they are ordered to pay Mr. Kha’s legal fees (as well they should). In the current economic climate, I bet the taxpayers of Garden Grove are just thrilled to death with the way their city is spending their hard-earned tax dollars.

But more significant are the ramifications of the highest court in the land refusing to review this case. It means that law enforcement officials in states with legalized medical marijuana must now respect patients’ rights (in theory). There will no longer be any question as to what to do with property seized from people in compliance with their state’s laws. That’s a great thing for sick people all across the country. But it gets even better. Not only does it mean that it is not the job of local law enforcement officials to enforce federal law, but it means that they cannot choose to uphold federal over state law. As if that wasn’t enough, it means that, contrary to what some have argued, federal law does not supercede state law. At least when it comes to medical marijuana. Whether or not local, state, and federal law enforcement officials abide by this ruling is another question. But at least a precedent has been set. It is, at the very least, one small victory over the U.S government in the war that it has been waging on its sick and dying citizens.

And who knows, maybe it will cause the local authorities to think twice before calling in the feds for a raid (yes, they do that all the time). They might even lose their jobs or be arrested themselves if they violate the state laws that they swore to uphold. And maybe the feds will think twice if they don’t have the cooperation of the local authorities. And maybe, just maybe, Mr. Kha will get his medicine back. Maybe not.

No comments: