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Perhaps someone from the US could help me understand the federal vs state legality of cannabis in the USA?

Can a state override any federal law?

Could federal-level law enforcement theoretically charge someone in a cannabis-legal state for drug offenses?




> Can a state override any federal law?

No, by the "Supremacy clause" of the Constitution.

> Could federal-level law enforcement theoretically charge someone in a cannabis-legal state for drug offenses?

Yes. Because people interact much more with local police than federal police, it makes a big difference whether or not the local police enforce these laws. The Obama administration also chose not to enforce federal marijuana laws in states with less restrictive state laws. But both of these relate to enforcement rather than legality.


Actually, IIRC/IANAL, SINCE recreational use is legal in D.C., federally the government's hands are tied, because I believe what is legal in D.C. is legal in all federal jurisdictions (except where state laws says otherwise), so Federally, I believe Marijuana is no longer prosecutable per se, I could be wrong -- but states that still ban it can prosecute since it's their state law.


Sounds like a legal urban legend.


Maybe, I heard it on here, and they probably were 'IANAL' too.


The supremacy clause combined with interstate commerce clause. Because any action might have a ripple-of-butterfly-wings effect on commerce, the federal law can claim interstate commerce would be affected. So it can supersede many state laws. You'll find various claims of "State's Rights" where politically convenient vs supremacy clause where convenient depending on political scores.


Yes and no. The authority of the Federal Government is constrained by what the Constitution explicitly authorizes; specifically, Article 1, Section 8 -- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enumerated_powers_(United_Stat... -- lists the things over which the Federal Government has original jurisdiction. The 10th Amendment goes further by stating that all powers not specifically delegated to the federal government are the domain of the States and the People.

To this topic, one hypothetical could be: the DEA conducts a raid on pot growers in Colorado and the Colorado state police arrest the feds for attempting to enforce an invalid federal law which was passed outside of the bounds of the enumerated powers. Sounds crazy, right? There's a precedent for this. During the US Civil War, Federal Marshals who had apprehended a runaway slave (pursuant to the Fugitive Slave Act) were themselves arrested by local authorities in Wisconsin for kidnapping and unlawful imprisonment. The principle in play sometimes goes by the name of "nullification" -- a great book on this topic can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B003TJAX0Q/

In practice, however, neither the States nor the Federal government have sought to have a decisive ruling on this question because it would either be the end of any semblance of State's Rights or sheer anarchy when countless laws and regulations are suddenly taken off the books -- one of which being the likely outcome from this going to the Supreme Court (not counting the more remote possibility of a new Civil War where the States might refuse to accept as impartial the ruling by a Federal Court on behalf of the Federal Government).


> Could federal-level law enforcement theoretically charge someone in a cannabis-legal state for drug offenses?

All these dispensaries are having a problem getting the money they make into the banking system because of federal law enforcement potentially going after the banks for laundering drug money or somesuch.

Don't think that's actually happened but it could which is enough for the bankers to steer clear.

I was reading a while back the biggest problem for the feds is local enforcement simply refuses to cooperate with them (since it's legal under state law and their job is to enforce state, not federal, law) and they don't have the resources to cause as much damage as they wish.


I don't think state laws override federal laws, they're just enforced by different agencies.

Yes. You can get in trouble in a National Park in any of the legal states, since those are federal land and the rangers are federal law enforcement.


> Can a state override any federal law?

No. There's been a lot of debate about this throughout history, but states overriding federal law has consistently been found to be unconstitutional. There are, however, other means to effect state overrides of federal law:

* Generally, only federal law can preempt state law. It is difficult (but not impossible) for the federal government to deregulate an industry and prevent states from reregulating it (pertinent modern example: net neutrality), as the lack of a federal law does not preempt a state law.

* States can direct their officers to refuse to enforce federal law. Historically, this happened with respect to the Fugitive Slave Act. SCOTUS has pretty consistently ruled that this is kosher, which has led Congress to tie granting money (particularly highway money) to acting in accord with its wishes. In more recent times, something similar has come up with respect to "sanctuary cities."


Interesting question! I'll give my take on it, which ties the answer to a 1942 wartime court case called Wickard v. Filburn.

The Tenth Amendment states the powers not delegated to the federal government by the Constitution are reserved to the States or to the people. The existence of some federal agencies may contradict the 10th Amendment, but the US Gov. has good reason to set policies on nuclear material regulation (Dept. of Energy), or airspace rules (FAA), and many other policy areas which could not have been foreseen at the time of the Constitution. The Framers of the Constitution could have written a clause allowing the government to regulate alcohol, cannabis, or any of the intoxicating drugs that existed at the time (opium?), but they didn't, so what is the basis for the 1970's Controlled Substances Act?

The specific precedent utilized by the CSA is based a very, very loose interpretation of the Interstate Commerce Clause, which states the Federal Government has power "To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes". This clause is important to prevent States from placing taxes and tariffs on goods from other States, but in a 1942 wartime decision the Supreme Court greatly expanded the interpretation of this clause, giving power to the federal government to regulate or prohibit any economic activity (including economic activity involving drugs).

In 1942 the US Government had placed quotas on wheat production to stabilize prices during wartime (side note, the government no longer uses quotas to accomplish price stabilization, but instead the USDA will buy crops directly when surpluses develop). Filburn had grown more wheat than his allotted quota and was fined for producing too much. Filburn argued that because he never sold the extra grain and grew it for use on his farm (animal feed), the quota did not apply because it would not enter the market. The case made it up to the Supreme Court, which ruled against Filburn on the basis that no production is strictly local because any surplus on Filburn's part would affect the amount of grain he bought, which would percolate through the market in aggregate. You can read more about the Wickard v. Filburn case on Wikipedia. That decision ultimately gave the US Government the power to regulate any economic activity.


states cannot override any federal law.

the federal government merely tolerates the semi-autonomous nature of states in order to maintain order. but the legality of the federal government's supremacy is well evolved, its power and might is extremely disproportionally higher than any collective of states, and at this point the semi-autonomous nature of states is pure fiction as the federal government can assume jurisdiction over any intra-state matter if it wanted to through its interstate commerce laws.

yes, federal level law enforcement can theoretically charge someone in a cannabis-legal state for drug offenses. this still happens. the discretion of the words of the President, the heads of the DEA and DOJ prevent the MAJORITY of it from happening and also guide the discretion of the courts and public sympathy. so right now, for the last two administrations it has not been a priority to upset the social order in cannabis-legal states. but it can still happen.


> states cannot override any federal law.

Not actually true: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nullification_(U.S._Constituti...


> not actually true

a concept which requires agreement from the federal courts themselves, who have never upheld a single argument related to this concept.

not actually what?


Selective incorporation: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incorporation_of_the_Bill_of_R...

10th Amendment: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tenth_Amendment_to_the_United_...

> The Tenth Amendment, which makes explicit the idea that the federal government is limited to only the powers granted in the Constitution, has been declared to be a truism by the Supreme Court.

Supremacy clause: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supremacy_Clause

> The Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution (Article VI, Clause 2) establishes that the Constitution, federal laws made pursuant to it, and treaties made under its authority, constitute the supreme law of the land.[1] It provides that state courts are bound by the supreme law; in case of conflict between federal and state law, the federal law must be applied. Even state constitutions are subordinate to federal law.[2] In essence, it is a conflict-of-laws rule specifying that certain federal acts take priority over any state acts that conflict with federal law

Natural rights ('inalienable rights': Equal rights, Life, Liberty, pursuit of Happiness): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_and_legal_rights

9th Amendment: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ninth_Amendment_to_the_United_...

> The Ninth Amendment (Amendment IX) to the United States Constitution addresses rights, retained by the people, that are not specifically enumerated in the Constitution. It is part of the Bill of Rights.

If the 9th Amendment recognizes any unenumerated rights of the people (with Supremacy, regardless of selective incorporation), it certainly recognizes those of the Declaration of Independence ((secession from the king ('CSA')), Equality, Life, Liberty, pursuit of Happiness), our non-binding charter which frames the entirety of the Constitutional convention


All of these things have been interpreted by the courts and their conclusion was not like yours

It is nice that you are interested in these things, but they simply cannot be read verbatim and then extrapolated to other things.

This isn't educational for anybody, this is a view that lacks all consensus and all avenues to ever garner consensus in this country.


Again, I ask you to explain how the current law grants equal rights.

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17401906

> We tend to have issues with Equal rights/protections: slavery, voting rights, [school] segregation. Please help us understand how to do this Equally:

>> Furthermore, (1) write a function to determine whether a given Person has a (natural inalienable) right: what information may you require? (2) write a function to determine whether any two Persons have equal rights.

Abolitionists faced similar criticism from on high.




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