Medical marijuana, also referred to as weed, grass, hash, dope, pot, and reefer, is currently legal in the State of Colorado and 15 other states, but illegal in the United States of America. So, it is illegal to own marijuana anywhere in the United States, which Colorado is a part of, but it is legal to possess it in this state as long as the federal government does not find out. This contradiction creates for an interesting situation for those who possess or dispense medical marijuana, particularly when the federal government decides to enforce their law.
Last week, federal prosecutors decided to crack down on California’s medical marijuana dispensaries. These dispensaries are similar to Colorado’s, and under California state law, they are legal. But under federal law, marijuana is considered a Schedule 1 drug and any dispensary owner who has more than one plant may be sent to jail for up to five years and receive a fine up to $250,000. The penalties may be increased to 10 years and one million dollars depending on how many plants the owner has. The prosecutors have threatened California dispensary owners with jail time, telling them they have 45 days to shut down or they may be arrested. While this is not happening in Colorado yet, this is the road this state will be heading down in the near future.
The problem here is a conflict between state and national law. Under the supremacy clause in Article VI clause two of the United States Constitution, “This Constitution and the laws of the United States… shall be the supreme law of the Land.” This means that the state laws about medical marijuana are irrelevant, because federal law trumps them all.
If Colorado and the 15 other medical marijuana states want to avoid their citizens being arrested, they must challenge the federal law in court to determine its constitutionality. By not doing so and having conflicting laws, the states are sending mixed messages with large consequences to their citizens. It is like a child’s father telling him or her it is okay to eat a cookie while the mother tells the child not to. The problem for the citizens is which authority to listen to.