NewsHour Extra Feature Stories
NewsHour Extra features stories can help students identify and interpret
key issues in current events. This activity anticipates one class period,
but the follow-up essay might be assigned as homework, or in another period.
Warm Up: Use
initiating questions to introduce the topic and find out how much your
Have students read NewsHour Extra's feature story and answer the questions
on the reading comprehension handout.
Use discussion questions to encourage students to think about how the
issues outlined in the story affect their lives and express and debate
can write an 500-word editorial on the topic expressing their views and
send it to NewsHour Extra [email@example.com]
for possible publication.
Students are graded on their answers to reading comprehension questions
and/or their editorial.
Court Hears Medical Marijuana Arguments, 12/01/04
1. What is the difference
between a federal law and a state law?
2. Should states be able to have laws that are different from federal
laws? Why or why not?
3. Should people who are chronically ill be able to use medicinal marijuana
when other treatments don't work?
Reading Comprehension Questions: (click
here for printout)
1. What was the topic
of oral arguments heard this week in the Supreme Court regarding states
and the federal government?
This week the
U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments Monday regarding the legality of
state laws that allow chronically sick people to use marijuana if a
doctor prescribes it. The federal government wants to be able to enforce
federal laws that ban the practice, saying it's essential in the war
2. Describe the basic
arguments of both sides in the case - the plaintiffs and the federal government?
Ten states have
laws that allow people to use marijuana to treat illnesses if prescribed
by a doctor, but federal law says that the practice is illegal.
The federal government
argues that it has the right to override state laws in this situation
because the issue is one of interstate commerce. The commerce clause
of the Constitution gives Congress the right to regulate trade "among
the several states."
The plaintiffs in
the case argue that homegrown medical marijuana is not sold and is therefore
not related to interstate commerce.
3. Who is the main
plaintiff in the case? What is her situation?
The case now
before the Supreme Court is called Ashcroft v. Raich. It concerns Angel
Raich, a 39-year-old California mother of two who uses marijuana to
treat the pain caused by a brain tumor and other illnesses.
medicine. I actually don't like smoking or vaporizing or using cannabis,
but it's the only way that I can keep from dying," Raich said.
Without the marijuana, she would not feel well enough to eat, she explained.
4. Why did the plaintiff
sue the government?
After the federal
government stepped up efforts to prosecute the suppliers of medical
marijuana in 2001, Raich and another ill woman, Diane Monson, sued the
federal government for the right to obtain the drug for medicinal purposes.
California, where both live, legalized medical marijuana in 1996.
5. What did the San
Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals say about the case?
Raich and Monson
won their case against the government in the San Francisco-based 9th
U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The Court ruled 2 to 1 that the federal
prosecution of medical marijuana users in states with medical marijuana
laws is unconstitutional if the drug is not sold, not transported across
state lines and used for medicinal purposes.
6. What is federalism?
And why is it interesting in this case, according to legal experts?
the doctrine of "federalism" -- the rights of states to decide
certain matters for themselves.
say that the medical marijuana case is especially interesting because
the doctrine of federalism -- often used by conservatives to keep the
centralized federal government out of local issues -- is now being used
7. How do some Supreme
Court watchers think this issue may be decided?
But some Supreme
Court watchers think conservative justices, who have upheld states rights
in the past, will argue that the right of the federal government to
regulate the drug trade trumps a state's right to legalize marijuana
for sick people.
Scalia and Justice Kennedy, two justices who have been part of that
five-justice majority to strike down other laws in the past, suggested
today by their questions that perhaps the mere possession of this kind
of marijuana, the personal use of it and growing it in your own home,
that could also affect commerce because that means you're not out buying
the drugs on the market," Chicago Tribune Supreme Court reporter
Jan Crawford Greenburg told the NewsHour.
could have some impact on commerce that may be enough to allow Congress
to step in here, pass this federal law and regulate this kind of drug
use," she added.
Discussion Activity (more research might be needed):
1. What do you think?
Should states that have legalized the medicinal use of marijuana be allowed
to do so? Explain your reasoning.
2. Would you or would
you want a member of your family to use medicinal marijuana if other treatments
did not work well? Why or why not? What would you do if the law did not
allow such use?
3. Research some historical
Supreme Court cases that have dealt with the commerce clause of the Constitution
including Swift v. United States (1905), Wickard v. Filburn (1942), Katzenbach
v. McClung (1964) and United States v. Morrison (1995). What do these
cases show about the push and pull between the power of states and the
power of the federal government? Use specific examples from history.
Write a 500-800 word
essay on any of these topics providing clear examples. Send your completed
editorial to NewsHour Extra [firstname.lastname@example.org].
Exceptional essays might be published on our Web site.