Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Erratic States

If you were to watch the GOP presidential debates and didn't know any better, you would think that the mean, old federal government has usurped the rights guaranteed to the states by the U.S. Constitution and rendered government inefficient and incompetent.

The truth is far different, however, as demonstrated by the nation's marijuana laws- all 50+ of them.       The Philadelphia Inquirer reports

Ed Forchion, who calls himself "NJ Weedman," will be allowed to act as his own lawyer at his drug trial in April as long as he doesn't argue that marijuana laws should be decriminalized, a judge decided Tuesday.
The longtime marijuana activist said he wanted to try to persuade a jury to reject the legitimacy of "New Jersey's goofy marijuana laws" while throwing out the marijuana charge against him.   But Superior Court Judge Charles Delehey, sitting in Burlington County, said court rules did not permit the defense to put a law itself on trial.
In October, he ruled that Forchion could not represent himself, but he reversed himself Tuesday after Forchion reluctantly said he would limit his arguments.
I'm going to abide by your rules," Forchion said after a long pause.
Forchion, 47, a Camden County native, now lives in Los Angeles, where he ran a pot farm and a medical marijuana dispensary for the last four years. On Dec. 13, federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents shut down his operations and confiscated his marijuana, he said.
Without revenue from his business, he said, he had to ask his mother to pay for his $600 plane ticket to New Jersey for the hearing.
"I didn't want them to issue a warrant for my arrest," he said.
While visiting family and friends in New Jersey in April 2010, Forchion was arrested in Mount Holly when a state trooper allegedly discovered a pound of marijuana in his car trunk during a traffic stop.
He was charged with possession of the drug with intent to distribute.
Forchion carries a card issued by California that allows him to use marijuana to help with pain from benign bone tumors in a leg and his shoulders, he said.
He had planned to argue at trial that New Jersey has conflicting laws about marijuana.
The state recently became the 14th in the nation to allow marijuana to be sold for the treatment of specific diseases and conditions while continuing to outlaw other uses.
Under New Jersey law, benign bone tumors are not eligible for marijuana treatment.

Forchion has been known in New Jersey as kind of a gadfly, and jury nullification is an issue for another day.     But... here we have a fellow running a marijuana farm and dispensary pursuant to the laws of the state, California, in which he resides.       Despite operating within the confines of the law- while providing a public service and perhaps making a tidy profit- Forchion gets arrested.

This would be a simple matter of an inflexible federal government encroaching upon the prerogatives of a state except.... the "perpetrator" decides to return to New Jersey for a visit. There, he is arrested for violating the laws of a state which actually has a medical marijuana law- but not one which does not authorize use for benign bone tumors.

California has an expansive medical marijuana law; New Jersey, under, and because of, the crude Chris Christie, has one that is very narrow.       Weedman isn't the only individual or group stymied by the proliferation of laws and practices in this field.      The Associated Press explains

In California, with the nation’s most permissive medical marijuana laws, 185 cities and counties have banned pot dispensaries entirely. In New Jersey, perhaps the most restrictive of the 17 states that have legalized marijuana for sick people, some groups planning to sell cannabis are struggling to find local governments willing to let them in.
Dispensaries have also been banned in parts of Colorado and have run into opposition in some towns in Maine.
Local politicians have argued that pot is still illegal under federal law, that marijuana dispensaries bring crime, and that such businesses are just fronts for drug-dealing, supplying weed to people who aren’t really sick.
Cities and towns are prohibiting dispensaries outright or applying zoning ordinances so strict that they amount to the same thing. The ordinances typically set minimum distances between such businesses and schools, homes, parks and houses of worship.

States can assume innumerable functions and issue regulations or issue laws to fulfill them. But even a relatively minor and ordinary policy such as pertains to medical marijuana may (mixed metaphor alert) run aground on the shoals of conflicting state laws.      The importance of national leadership, and with it regulations that apply throughout the nation, is demonstrated yet again.

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