Imagine this scenario: voters in the State of California, after a furious special interest propaganda campaign, elect to flout federal law and render it legal in the state for printers to manufacture their own counterfeit currency.
Maybe they were convinced this was necessary to fix the state’s economic woes. Or maybe they were told public officials would use the currency in place of taxpayer funds to bankroll important public projects. The reason doesn’t really matter.
The key question is this: would you support the right of California to enact such a provision?
My guess is not a chance. However, a very similar ridiculous scenario is playing out right now in the State of Arizona, where a new state law permits the distribution of marijuana for medical purposes. And Judicial Watch has stepped into the battle.
Judicial Watch filed an amicus curiae brief in the Court of Appeals of the State of Arizona, District One, in support of Maricopa County and the State of Arizona’s lawsuit appealing a December, 4, 2012, Maricopa Superior Court ruling that the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA) did not conflict with federal drug laws.
In its brief, Judicial Watch maintains that the AMMA, which permits the use of marijuana for medical purposes, is a direct violation of the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA), which makes it unlawful to “manufacture, distribute, or dispense, or possess with intent to manufacture, distribute, or dispense” any controlled substance:
Federal law is unambiguous in that marijuana is a controlled substance regulated under a comprehensive statutory and regulatory scheme. As such, the production, sale, and use of marijuana, other than as part of a federally authorized research program, is a violation of federal law regardless of any state law permitting such activities even in a limited manner.
Further, the Superior Court ruling notwithstanding, the CSA preempts the AMMA under the “Supremacy Clause,” which makes federal laws “supreme,” contrary to any state law. Citing the CSA provisions, Judicial Watch maintains:
…where a “positive conflict” exists between the CSA and a state law such that “the two cannot consistently stand together, the CSA “shall be construed” as evidencing Congressional intent to “occupy the field” in which the CSA provision operates ….
And how did this wind up in the courts?
In 2010, Arizona voters narrowly approved a ballot measure allowing people with certain debilitating medical conditions to use medical marijuana. Under the law, state health officials can license up to 126 dispensaries in designated areas. In June, 2012, the White Mountain Health Center sued Maricopa County for allegedly stalling approval of its zoning application to prevent it from seeking a state operating license for a dispensary. In December 2004, the Maricopa Superior Court ruled in White Mountain’s favor.
In its amicus brief defending the Maricopa County appeal, Judicial Watch argues:
Maricopa County cannot issue a zoning permit for a facility for the cultivation and dispensing of marijuana any more than it could issue a permit to establish a “meth lab” or a print shop for counterfeit currency. Our federal system does not permit that.
This is a clear cut case where federal law trumps state law, regardless of how many voters may wish it weren’t so. Medical marijuana special interest groups have invested heavily in shaping public perception on this issue, but we cannot allow the rule of law to be subject to the shifting whims of the electorate.
If marijuana is to be “legalized,” the U.S. Constitution requires that it be done by an act of Congress. In the meantime, a state simply can’t legalize something that is a felony under federal law. Conflicting marijuana laws create not just uncertainty in the law, but undermine the rule of law that protects our liberty.