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Medical marijuana: Ending conflict between state and federal laws

We recently discussed proposed legislation that would make Florida one of several states that have legalized medical use of marijuana. Since that post, Congress has made a bold move that removes at least one conflict in the enforcement of federal drug offenses in states where pot use is legal.

The Controlled Substance Act is federal law that classifies marijuana as an unsafe drug that has a high potential for abuse with no known medically accepted use in this country. As such, the owner of a medical marijuana dispensary in a state in which such an activity is legal under state law could be subject to charges of committing federal drug crimes.

An owner of the medical marijuana dispensary might face serious consequences under federal law by committing an act that is otherwise legal under state statutes, thanks to the United States Constitution. Although the Constitution is usually associated with the protection of an individual’s rights, in the case of a conflict between state and federal laws, the federal government wins.

Officials at the U.S. Department of Justice have declined to prosecute individuals for drug possession or other drug offenses involving the medical use of marijuana in states that have passed laws to legalize it. The problem has been that such a stance by federal prosecutors does not reflect a change in federal law. It is merely a policy that could be rescinded by a future president.

The new legislation from Congress removes federal barriers to medical marijuana use, production or distribution in those states where it has been legalized. It must be noted that the federal law does not legalize generalized or "recreational" use of marijuana, nor does it legalize medical marijuana use in states that have not passed legislation to do so.

Conflict between federal and state drug laws is just one example of the complexity drug offenses. If you have been charged, or if you are under investigation for, drug offenses, you should obtain legal advice from a criminal defense attorney who is knowledgeable about this area of the law.

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