When it comes to laws and regulations, the relationship between federal and state laws can be a complex one. In most cases, they cover the same topics and issues. It is far more common to see state laws be more specific than their federal equivalents. Typically, when it comes to federal vs. state law, state law has to be more specific because, more often than not, they are the ones enforcing the rules. The vast majority of law enforcement is on the state level or below, so it’s not exactly common to be arrested by the federal government for blue-collar crimes.
That being said, there are instances where these laws may contradict each other. This is particularly evident in the case of medical marijuana in Pennsylvania and other states. In Pennsylvania, medical marijuana has been legalized for licensed processors to sell to patients. At the same time, the sale and use of marijuana remain illegal under federal law. So, what exactly happens when federal law and state law contradict each other like this? The criminal defense attorneys at Scartelli Olszewski, P.C. can explain.
First, let’s understand the difference between federal and state laws. Federal laws are created by Congress and apply to every state in the country. These laws are enforced by federal agencies like the FBI, DEA, and IRS.
On the other hand, state laws are created by state legislatures and only apply within that specific state. These laws are enforced by state agencies like police departments and local courts.
The United States Constitution includes a clause known as the “Supremacy Clause.” This was created in response to the Articles of Confederation soon after the nation’s founding. It states that federal law is the supreme law of the land. This means that if there is a conflict between federal law and state law, federal law takes precedence.
By that same wording, however, it’s important to note that ‘coming into conflict’ means that they have to actively conflict in a case, as in when both laws are being applied. This means that if the state doesn’t arrest or charge people for a crime that the federal government would, then there isn’t a chance for them to come into conflict.
The Supremacy Clause does not force the state to enforce the laws of the federal government without question.
In 2016, Pennsylvania legalized medical marijuana through the passage of Senate Bill 3. This allows patients with certain qualifying conditions to use medical marijuana with a prescription from a licensed physician. However, under federal law, this same marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance, meaning it is illegal for any purpose.
So, what happens if someone in Pennsylvania is found in possession of medical marijuana? Under state law, they would not be subject to criminal prosecution. However, under federal law, they could face serious consequences such as fines or imprisonment. This creates a complicated situation where you may be legally protected under state law but still at risk of federal prosecution.
The decision to enforce federal law ultimately lies with the discretion of federal agencies. Local and state law enforcement cannot enforce federal laws, which include the illegal use of medical marijuana. There are rare exceptions when they are asked to work with or on behalf of federal law enforcement, but these are typically for issues more serious than medical marijuana.
When federal law and state law contradict each other, federal law takes precedence due to the Supremacy Clause, but that doesn’t mean federal law is always going to come into play. Everyone needs to understand the legal landscape and potential risks involved in situations where federal and state laws may conflict with each other.
So, while Pennsylvania has legalized medical marijuana, it is still necessary to proceed with caution and stay informed about any changes or updates in laws at both the federal and state levels. Overall, navigating through contradictory laws can be a tricky and evolving process, but understanding the role of federal vs. state law is essential in staying compliant and avoiding potential legal consequences. As always, it is advisable to contact legal professionals for guidance in specific cases involving conflicting laws. The criminal defense attorneys at Scartelli Olszewski, P.C. have the experience you need to help. Contact us for help today.