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Interplay of State and Federal Marijuana Laws

As of January 2017, a total of 28 states have legalized medical marijuana. Seven states and the District of Columbia have approved the recreational use of marijuana. However, the federal government still categorizes marijuana as a Schedule 1 Narcotic.

Experienced medical marijuana lawyers are able to help you build a defense for any charges you may be facing under the new legalization laws. Before proceeding with your case, it may be critical to understand the interplay of state and federal marijuana laws in Michigan.

Understanding the Supremacy Clause

Interplay of state and federal marijuana laws in Michigan may have conflicts based on the facts of one's case. Article IV, Section 2 of the US Constitution is known as the Supremacy Clause. This doctrine was first enunciated by Chief Justice John Marshall in McCoullock v. Maryland, 17 US (4 Wheat) 316, 316 4 L. Ed 579 (1819). Justice Marshall declared that "the government of the union, though limited in its power, is supreme within its sphere of action."

When a conflict arises between state action which is apparently incompatible with federal law, there are two issues that must be resolved. The first issue concerns whether the congressional action falls within the scope of federal authority. The authority of Congress to regulate drug trafficking within the United States has been well established for more than a century.

Defining Intentions for Legalization

The court suggested that the focus should be on whether the federal scheme is, "so pervasive as to make the inference that Congress left no room for the state to supplement it." The analysis centers around the question that the federal interest is, "so dominant that the federal system must be assumed to preclude the enforcement of state laws on the same subject."

The second question concerns the possibility that enforcement of state law, "presents a danger of conflict with the administration of the federal program." It seems obvious that the decision of the states to permit the sale of marijuana for recreational use or even for a more limited purpose such as medical marijuana, is clearly in conflict with the federal enforcement scheme.

Impact of Legalized Use

The approval of the use, possession, cultivation, and distribution of marijuana even for the limited purpose of medical treatment, has caused a significant shift in the law. Until very recently, both sovereigns prohibited the use of marijuana. There was no conflict in regards to the interplay of state and federal marijuana laws in Michigan and hence no issue that touched upon the Supremacy Clause.

Most likely, any federal court called upon to resolve the conflict between state law and federal law will be constrained to rule that the federal law is the supreme law of the land. Since the New Deal, courts have consistently expanded the power of the federal government at the expense of the state's ability to conduct its own affairs.

Permitting the use, possession, distribution, and cultivation of marijuana, even for a limited purpose would, "present a danger of conflict with a federal program" if a state were to be allowed to legalize activities specifically prohibited by congressional action.

Dual Sovereignty in Michigan

In Heath v. Alabama 472 US 82, 88, 106 S. Ct 433, 88 L. Ed 2d 387 (1985), the Supreme Court explained that the doctrine, "is founded on the common-law conception as an offense against the sovereignty of the government." Thus, the courts have held that even double jeopardy is not a bar to prosecution when the same act violates the peace and dignity of two sovereigns by the same act.

In a state where the use of marijuana for medical or recreational purpose has been approved by the state government, there is no legal bar to the federal government enforcing its laws to prosecute an individual for a violation of federal law even though such conduct is permissible under state law.

What Changes Have Impacted Interplay of State and Federal Marijuana Laws?

In Michigan, numerous courts have imposed upon defendants, who are released on bond or placed on probation, a prohibition against the use of marijuana even for those who have a medical marijuana card. The rationale for such a decision is that although the use of medical marijuana is legal under Michigan law, it constitutes a violation of federal law and hence constitutes a violation of law prohibited under standard bond conditions.

The change in Michigan law has created a conflict between state and federal law. Several states have authorized the use of marijuana for medical purposes. An additional group of states have legalized the recreational use of marijuana.

However, it is abundantly clear that federal law still prohibits the use, cultivation, sale, possession, and distribution of marijuana. The question of what, if any action, the federal government anticipates taking against individuals who reside in states that have approved the medical or recreational use of marijuana is at present unclear. At the outset, the federal government will take a different position on the use of medical marijuana as opposed to recreational marijuana.

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