Supreme Court of the United States

In Re: The Controlled Substances Act

Court No. 15–03, 100 M.S.Ct. 102

The Chief Justice delivered the opinion of a unanimous Court.

Before us is a challenge to portions of the Controlled Substances Act[1], specifically the scheduling of marijuana as a schedule I narcotic. As a threshold matter, the Government contends that the Petitioner lacks standing to file this challenge. For the reasons below, we find the Petitioner has standing, but we deny the petition on the merits.


The U.S. Constitution gives this Court the authority to hear “all Cases . . . arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made . . . under their Authority.” U.S. Const., Art. III, §2. This so-called “Cases and Controversies” provision has generally been held to require actual injury to the person bringing suit.

Indeed, this is a well established principle under the U.S. Constitution, and one that does not allow a grievance alone to be sufficient to bring an action. This requirement ensures the presence of the “concrete adverseness which sharpens the presentation of issues upon which the court so largely depends for illumination of difficult constitutional questions.” Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186, 204 (1962). The presence of a disagreement, however sharp and acrimonious it may be, is insufficient by itself to meet Art. III’s requirements. This Court consistently has required, in addition, that the party seeking judicial resolution of a dispute “show that he personally has suffered some actual or threatened injury as a result of the putatively illegal conduct” of the other party. Gladstone, Realtors v. Village of Bellwood, 441 U.S. 91, 99 (1979).

Diamond v. Charles, 476 U.S. 54, 61–62 (1986). See also Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 501 (1975). This would seem to put the matter to rest, and indeed, for those courts it did. However, the Court at this time finds itself operating under a slightly different framework and system. Rather than traditional federalism, we are faced with a sort of meta-federalism, where we have the U.S. Constitution and a second, reddit-specific constitution. The question then becomes which one prevails where they conflict, and logic dictates only one answer. The reddit constitution must trump the other for our purposes, or it would have been pointless to make. As far back as Marbury v. Madison, this Court has presumed that the Legislature does not make empty laws. 5 U.S. 137, 174 (1803) (“It cannot be presumed that any clause in the Constitution is intended to be without effect . . .”).

With this in mind, we must look to see if there is an applicable conflict. Article III of the reddit constitution contains the following provision: “Any member wishing to test the Constitutionality of a passed bill is free to file a case with the Supreme Court, after obtaining a petition with 10 signatories.”

Once again, we must assume that this constitution was written without extraneous language. Moreover, the plain reading of a provision must control unless this would lead to absurdity; we must assume that lawmakers use words in “their natural and ordinary signification.” Pensacola Telegraph Co. v. Western Union Telegraph Co., 96 U.S. 1, 12 (1878). This provision of the reddit constitution clearly indicates that any member of the Legislature who wishes to test the constitutionality of a law may do so provided the other requirements are met. There is no indication that the other requirements have not been met, and the Government has not alleged this to be the case. This provision does not require any direct injury, and one could have been added if that were the intent of its drafters.

In light of the above, the reddit constitution provides a way to challenge a law absent direct injury, and this provision must trump the conflicting one in the U.S. Constitution. We therefore find that Petitioner has standing to challenge the constitutionality of this law, and we will decide this case on the merits.



Petitioner challenges 21 U.S.C. §803(32)(A) “as it applies to marijuana.” This is somewhat puzzling, as this provision does not address marijuana or indeed any well-known narcotic, but instead provides criminal penalties for certain analogues of controlled substances:

The Controlled Substance Analogue Enforcement Act of 1986 (Analogue Act) identifies a category of substances substantially similar to those listed on the federal controlled substance schedules, 21 U. S. C. §802(32)(A), and then instructs courts to treat those analogues, if intended for human consumption, as controlled substances listed on schedule I for purposes of federal law, §813.

McFadden v. United States, 576 U.S. ___, ___ (slip op. at 1) (2015). Thus this provision is not applicable to marijuana itself, and so has not bearing on Petitioner’s underlying claim.

However, Petitioner also attacks marijuana’s inclusion as a Schedule I narcotic, arguing that this violates the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. That provision provides, in relevant part, that: “[No person shall] be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law. . .”

Petitioner argues that this provision is violated by “restrict[ing] the individual’s ability to consume marijuana’’ without due process of law. However, this represents a misreading of the Due Process Clause. Under the Petitioner’s interpretation, any provision that banned the possession of any object or, indeed, any criminal statute whatsoever, would be unconstitutional. This is patently erroneous on its face, as will be explained below. Petitioner subsequently argued:

The law was written and passed, but when the Executive Branch applied it to Marijuana that is when the violation of the 5th Amendment occurred, as there was no due process involved with the instantaneous criminalization of millions of American citizens, without any representation of the opposition’s interests.

This too is a misreading of what, exactly, the Due Process Clause guarantees. It does not protect an individual from all government encroachment on things he would otherwise like to do. Instead, it only means that if the Government chooses to make something a crime, no one may be punished for it without due process of law. It does not stand for the idea that the Government may not change the legality of a certain action, including possession of a certain substance. There is nothing in the history of the Constitution or in the precedent of this or any other court within the United States to support petitioner’s interpretation of this particular protection.

Indeed, this reading is inconsistent with the very text of the Due Process Clause. It states that no one may be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. In interpreting a statute, we must “give effect, if possible, to every clause and word of a statute.” Montclair v. Ramsdell, 107 U.S. 147, 152 (1883). Petitioner has not pointed to any particular deprivation that has taken place as a result of this law. True, someone may face criminal prosecution for violation of the Controlled Substances Act, just as is true with any other criminal statute. It is also true that an individual could not be prosecuted for actions that took place prior to marijuana being added to the list of prohibited substances. U.S. Const., Art. I, §9, cl. 3 (the so-called Ex Post Facto clause). That is, someone could not be charged for possession of marijuana if that possession only took place during a time when it was not illegal to do so. Petitioner’s argument seems to amount to the idea that some due process is due before Congress may pass a law. This is not consistent with the Constitution.

As stated above, the Due Process Clause prohibits a deprivation of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, but it does not prohibit deprivation categorically, nor does it remove general rule-making power from Congress. The Controlled Substances Act creates the potential for future deprivation, to be sure, but provided due process of law is given to each person charged under this Act, the Clause is satisfied.

Congress has the power to criminalize certain conduct, provided doing so does not conflict with any other right guaranteed by the Constitution. Thus, for example, Congress may not criminalize service on a jury. See U.S. Const., Amend. VI. And there are a host of laws, by either the Government or the States, that have been ruled by this Court to be unconstitutional because they infringe upon a constitutionally-guaranteed right. See, e.g., Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954) (state laws mandating school separation based on race), Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967) (state laws banning interracial marriage), United States v. Windsor, 570 U.S. ___ (2013) (federal law banning recognition of same-sex marriages).

That being said, Petitioner has failed to establish any right in the possession of marijuana. While the predecessor of the Controlled Substances Act, known as the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, was ruled unconstitutional by this Court in 1969, this was on self-incrimination clause grounds, and did not challenge the underlying authority of Congress to impose these restrictions. Leary v. United States, 395 U.S. 6 (1969). Other challenges have not been successful, and this Court has never held that a right to possess or consume marijuana can be found anywhere in the Constitution. See, e.g., Gonzales v. Raich, 545 U.S. 1 (2005) (the Commerce Clause allows Congress to criminalize home growing of marijuana), United States v. Oakland Cannabis Buyers’ Cooperative, 532 U.S. 483 (2001) (common-law medical necessity defense does not prevent conviction for possession of marijuana, even in a State which allows medical use of marijuana). Petitioner gives us no reason to do so, and we see none.

Because we find that Congress acted within its authority, we find no issue with Congress delegating this authority to the Executive.


One final matter warrants discussion. Petitioner asserts that “[i]t is the Court’s duty to stamp out factual incorrectness in laws, regardless of their constitutionality. . .” This is inconsistent with our constitutional structure. As described in Part I, this Court has jurisdiciton over “all Cases . . . arising under this Constition, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made. . .” It has long been established that the Court’s role is to interpret the laws, to “say what the law is.” Marbury, 5 U.S. at 137. But from the Founding,

Whoever attentively considers the different departments of power must perceive, that, in a government in which they are separated from each other, the judiciary, from the nature of its functions, will always be the least dangerous to the political rights of the Constitution; because it will be least in a capacity to annoy or injure them. The Executive not only dispenses the honors, but holds the sword of the community. The legislature not only commands the purse, but prescribes the rules by which the duties and rights of every citizen are to be regulated. The judiciary, on the contrary, has no influence over either the sword or the purse; no direction either of the strength or of the wealth of the society; and can take no active resolution whatever. It may truly be said to have neither FORCE nor WILL, but merely judgment; and must ultimately depend upon the aid of the executive arm even for the efficacy of its judgments.

The Federalist No. 78 (A. Hamilton). Nothing in the Constitution gives this Court the authority to substitute its judgment for that of Congress, absent Congress’ authorization to do so. The Constitution grants to Congress “[a]ll legislative Powers.” Art. I, §1. “Our task is to apply the text, not to improve upon it.” Pavelic & LeFlore v. Marvel Entertainment Group, Div. of Cadence Industries Corp., 493 U. S. 120, 126 (1989). We have “no roving license . . . to disregard clear language simply on the view that . . . Congress must have intended” something different. Michigan v. Bay Mills Indian Community, 572 U. S. ___, ___ (slip op. at 11) (2014).

The prohibition of marijuana has been frequently and persuasively criticized, and organized efforts are ongoing to change these laws or defend them. Some States have chosen to change their own codes to permit both medical or recretaional use to varying degrees. See, e.g., Co. Const. Art. XVIII, §16 (recreational use), R.I. Gen. Laws §§21–28.6–1–13 (2010) (medical use). The scientific community continues to study the issue from a public health standpoint. But all this debate and scholarly work only underscores the fact that this Court should leave such questions in the hands of those more capable to make reasoned, appropriate judgments. The People may, through ballot initiatives or their legislators, change the laws should they conclude that to be best. But as long as the Legislature does not infringe upon Constitutionally-guaranteed rights, such questions remain entirely the will of the People. To hold otherwise would be to usurp the People’s command of their own affairs, and would be to change the form of this Nation into one almost unrecognizable. This we decline to do.

* * *

Congress may pass any law that does not exceed its authority or conflict with the guarantees of the Constitution. It has acted within its authority here. The debate as to the wisdom of its actions in this case will doubtless continue, as it should. But this Court may not insert itself into a debate on policy. We have neither the expertise nor the authority to do so.

Because this Court finds that no Fifth Amendment violation exists in this case, we need not address the issue raised by the Government of whether Petitioner’s challenge is an unjusticiable political question. For the foregoing reasons, the petition is dismissed.

It is so ordered.

[1]21 U.S.C. §§801, et seq.
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