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Federal drug charges and the Constitution's Supremacy Clause

Terms such as "supremacy clause" might remind some residents of their days in school, learning about the U.S. Constitution and memorizing specific elements. Some parts of the Constitution, though, have the ability to affect some Washington residents' daily lives, particularly if those residents use marijuana for either medical or recreational reasons. As many may know, both medical and recreational marijuana is legal in the state of Washington, though there are many exceptions. Still, it is possible to face federal drug charges over marijuana use even if such use is within the boundaries of state laws on the subject.

How is this possible? In the United States, both state and federal laws govern people's lives. Nonetheless, Article VI of the U.S. Constitution dictates that federal law is the "supreme" law of the land. This is known as the Supremacy Clause, and it means that judges in all states must not only obey the Constitution but also federal laws. The doctrine of preemption is closely related to the Supremacy Clause and essentially means that federal law can override state law if the two are not the same.

What does all this mean for residents of Washington State? One big lesson that can be taken away is that marijuana use is not completely unregulated in Washington; in fact, quite the opposite is true. For example, home grown marijuana intended for personal, non-medical use is illegal in the state, as is buying marijuana legally in Washington then transporting it into another state.

Since federal law trumps state law, and because marijuana consumption is still illegal under federal law, certain people involved in Washington's marijuana industry could face federal prosecution. Federal crimes, from child abduction to computer crimes, can entail severe penalties for those convicted, and an aggressive defense may be necessary for those affected by the Constitution's Supremacy Clause and doctrine of preemption.

Source: FindLaw, "The Supremacy Clause and the Doctrine of Preemption," accessed Jan. 1, 2016

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