Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, March 6, 2015

Under Analysis

Congress proves marijuana confuses

Back in the day, the hemp plant would only confuse you if you chewed it or smoked it. These days however, the confusing nature of marijuana has spread to the political and legal spectrums. In the United States, its popularity, and disputes over its health benefits or detriments, has caused havoc with the governmental structure of our nation.

The concept that federal law trumps state law and that federal law is to be used to ensure uniformity of application across the country has reached a stoned wall in the area of marijuana regulation. One by one, various states have legalized or partially legalized its use and/or distribution, or reduced state law penalties for use or distribution to levels below that mandated by Federal law. In the legalization states, the states are willing participants in marijuana ventures that violate federal law, charging licensing fees, collecting taxes, and otherwise profiting from the sale of the illegal drug. Once in the day, Alabama claimed its state law against desegregation could not be overridden by federal law, and found itself the involuntary host of federal National Guard and military personnel, who enforced the federal law. Yet, in the context of marijuana, states continue to flout the federal law, and the feds have decided that that’s okay. Yet, the federal authorities have NOT stopped enforcing anti-marijuana federal laws; they’ve just done so in states that legalize it. Thus, the federal mandate is for selective, non-uniform enforcement, which is not the American way at all.

As confusing as the tension between states laws and federal laws was, however, nothing was as confusing as the recent legalization of marijuana by the federal government in the District of Columbia only. As elementary school children know, and the rest of us have long forgotten, the District of Columbia has local laws, acts, and regulations much like the states of our union. However, the District is not a state, but rather a district created by the Federal Government, and its local laws are actually determined by our national Congress. Until 1974, Congress directly passed all local laws. To increase efficiency, in 1974 a District Council was established. This locally elected council now initially enacts acts, but still must submit them to Congress for approval. If Congress doesn’t want the act to become law in the District, it passes a law quashing it and submits it to the president for signature or veto – the same as any law. If Congress chooses not to act, the 1974 law causes the act to become law as “deemed approved.” Thus, although the law is initially passed by the Council, it is still ultimately an act of Congress.

Recently, the Council passed an act submitting the question of legalization of marijuana within the district to local referendum, which specified that its approval would cause the matter to be submitted to Congress for approval as a law governing the district. The referendum passed, and the matter was submitted and directly and expressly considered by Congress – which did NOT act to prevent it from becoming law. Accordingly, our federal Congress has now legalized marijuana in the federal District, despite other laws which make the use of marijuana a federal crime. As a result, since laws are to be read together, the actual federal law of the United States is now that marijuana use is illegal in all parts of the our country except the District of Columbia. Does this make any sense at all?

Wonder what they were smoking when they came up with this one?

©2015 under analysis. Under analysis is a nationally syndicated column of the Levison group. Charles Kramer is a principal of the St. Louis based law firm, Riezman Berger, PC. Comments or criticisms of this column can be sent to the Levison Group and Mr. Kramer c/o this newspaper or direct via email to comments@levisongroup.com.