Federal Law Trumps State Law
As Colorado’s Attorney General I take an oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution and the Colorado Constitution. As part of this job, I frequently urge upon the state and federal courts a particular interpretation of these constitutional documents.
But the final word on the meaning of the U.S. Constitution is the U.S. Supreme Court and the final word on the meaning of the Colorado Constitution is the Colorado Supreme Court.
In a dispute on whether federal laws trump state laws under the Supremacy Clause, the U.S. Supreme Court has the final say.
In Gonzales v. Raich [case], the U.S. Supreme Court held that even when marijuana is grown, distributed and consumed within a single state, it does affect interstate commerce and is therefore subject to federal regulation. While you or I may find this decision by a majority that included Justice Antonin Scalia to be “judicial activism,” it is nonetheless the law of the land. In Florida v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, scheduled to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in March, the federal government is citing Gonzales v. Raich and other similar cases to argue that the Commerce Clause allows it to require every American to buy health insurance or face an economic sanction.
My fellow attorneys general and I have successfully argued in a U.S. District Court and the in 11th Circuit Court of Appeals that one’s failure to buy a particular product or service at the federal government’s direction is economic inactivity (unlike growing and selling a crop) and therefore not subject to congressional regulation under the Commerce Clause.
We argue that if the federal government is able to regulate your economic decision making in such a manner, federalism is essentially dead. Rather than having limited enumerated powers under Article I, Section 8, the federal government would have largely unbridled power in all areas not addressed in the Bill of Rights.
But make no mistake about it: If the U.S. Supreme Court should determine that the individual health insurance mandate is a proper exercise of the commerce power by Congress, that will be the law of the land and Americans will be left to pursue political remedies as opposed to legal ones.
Such is the rule of law in America. Because of the rule of law, until a change of policy by Congress, medical marijuana remains in violation of federal law. The state attorney general cannot change that.