This week, the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing arguments related to the legality of using marijuana for medical purposes. Currently, 11 states including Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington have passed state laws that allow patients to use marijuana to ease symptoms based upon doctor recommendation. Opponents argue that by legalizing marijuana, even for medical use, these 11 states jeopardize the current federal drug laws. Presently, the federal government -- the U.S. Congress -- has the power to pass laws related to broad sweeping topics such as taxation and interstate commerce. Over the past decade, the states have passed laws that modify federal laws, including gun control, marriage, violence against women, and the death penalty.

The controversy with states passing laws legalizing marijuana for medical use stems from the argument that legalizing this form of drug use could jeopardize all federal drug laws and result in people abusing the law and using marijuana for recreational v. medicinal purposes. In addition, the federal government argues that legalizing marijuana is an interstate commerce issue, thus the law should be established by the federal government, not the states.

Materials Needed:

  • Think/Pair/Share questions (see below)
  • Overhead projector or blackboard
  • "Agree" and "Disagree" signs (8 ½ X 11)
  • 4 markers
  • 2 large pads of chart paper
  • Easels or tape for holding/posting chart paper (optional)
  • Access to NewsHour Extra story entitled "Supreme Court Hears Medical Marijuana Arguments"
Think/Pair/Share Questions:
1. States lawmakers should have the right to make laws that they deem in the best interest of their citizens, even if those laws conflict with laws passed in the U.S. Congress.

2. Illegal drugs that have been shown to have harmful long-term effects should be allowed for use by patients with chronic medical conditions if doctors feel it will provide them short-term relief from their symptoms.

3. Even though violence from the illegal drug-trade in the U.S. kills hundreds of people every year, laws aimed at prosecuting those who produce and distribute illegal drugs should be waived for medicinal users even though it might cause increased drug use and abuse by recreational users.

Part 1: Forming and Sharing Opinions

1. Begin by telling students that they will be involved in a number of activities that will require them to share their opinions and ideas about a current U.S. Supreme Court case.

2. Have all students stand so they can move around the room to discuss their ideas with one another.

3. Using the overhead or blackboard, reveal the first Think/Pair/Share question. After you read the question aloud, give students 30 seconds to think about their answer. Instruct students that they are NOT allowed to talk. They should use the next 30 seconds of "thinking time" to decide whether they agree or disagree with the
statement and why.

4. Once the "thinking time" has ended, direct students to go to the sign that reflects their opinion. Post the "Agree" sign at one end of the room and the "Disagree" sign at the other end of the room. Remind students that the should choose the sign based on their opinions, which they will be required to share in the next step.

5. When all students have moved to the area of the room that reflects their opinion, have them share why they "Agree" or "Disagree" with at least 1 other person in the group. Allow 1-2 minutes for students to share their opinions.

6. Once all students have had a chance to share their opinion with another person who feels similarly, have the group come together to share why they "Agreed" or "Disagreed" with the statement. With one person in the group selected to be the recorder, all group members should share their reasons for their opinions. These reasons should be written on the chart paper so they can be shared later. Allow each group 3 minutes to record all of the reasons for their opinions.

7. Once ideas are recorded, choose one person in each group to be the speaker. This should NOT be the same person who did the recording in the earlier step. Using the ideas from the list, the speaker should share the reasons why the members of his/her group "Agreed" or "Disagreed" with the statement.

8. Complete steps 3-7 above for each of the remaining questions. Remind students that their opinions should drive whether they choose to agree or disagree with each statement.

9. Once students have completed the Think/Pair/Share activity, have them return to their

Part 2: Deciding the Case

10. Share the NewsHour Extra story entitled: "Supreme Court Hears Medical Marijuana Arguments," with the class.

11. After reviewing the story, revisit the Think/Pair/Share questions and have students think about whether or not their opinions about the questions have changed at all because of what they have learned from the NewsHour story.

12. Ask each student to imagine that s/he is a member of the U.S. Supreme Court. Based on what they have learned about the medical marijuana debate, how would they rule?

13. Have students write no more than 1 page describing the following about their decision:

  • Would you vote to uphold the laws in the 11 states that allow the use of medical marijuana? Explain why or why not.
  • Is the use of medical marijuana legitimate or simply legalized abuse?
  • Give specific reasons, facts, and examples you would use to support your opinion about the use of medical marijuana.
National Standards
based on McREL standards and benchmarks:

Language Arts:
Listening and Speaking
Standard 8: Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes

Thinking and Reasoning
Standard 1: Understands and applies the basic principles of presenting an argument
Standard 6: Applies decision-making techniques

Working With Others
Standard 4: Displays effective interpersonal communication skills

Standard 3: Understands the sources, purposes, and functions of law, and the importance of the rule of law for the protection of individual rights and the common good
Standard 18: Understands the role and importance of law in the American constitutional system and issues regarding the judicial protection of individual rights

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