U.S. Supreme Court: State Medical Marijuana Laws Not Preempted by Federal Law

Technically a lower court precedent was left standing, but the decision to leave it standing likely means a majority of the court would have voted to uphold it.


Washington, DC – The U.S. Supreme Court refused to review a landmark decision today in which California state courts found that its medical marijuana law was not preempted by federal law. The state appellate court decision from November 28, 2007, ruled that “it is not the job of the local police to enforce the federal drug laws.” The case, involving Felix Kha, a medical marijuana patient from Garden Grove, was the result of a wrongful seizure of medical marijuana by local police in June 2005. Medical marijuana advocates hailed today’s decision as a huge victory in clarifying law enforcement’s obligation to uphold state law. Advocates assert that better adherence to state medical marijuana laws by local police will result in fewer needless arrests and seizures. In turn, this will allow for better implementation of medical marijuana laws not only in California, but in all states that have adopted such laws.

“It’s now settled that state law enforcement officers cannot arrest medical marijuana patients or seize their medicine simply because they prefer the contrary federal law,” said Joe Elford, Chief Counsel with Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the medical marijuana advocacy organization that represented the defendant Felix Kha in a case that the City of Garden Grove appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. “Perhaps, in the future local government will think twice about expending significant time and resources to defy a law that is overwhelmingly supported by the people of our state.”

California medical marijuana patient Felix Kha was pulled over by the Garden Grove Police Department and cited for possession of marijuana, despite Kha showing the officers proper documentation. The charge against Kha was subsequently dismissed, with the Superior Court of Orange County issuing an order to return Kha’s wrongfully seized 8 grams of medical marijuana. The police, backed by the City of Garden Grove, refused to return Kha’s medicine and the city appealed. Before the 41-page decision was issued a year ago by California’s Fourth District Court of Appeal, the California Attorney General filed a “friend of the court” brief on behalf of Kha’s right to possess his medicine. The California Supreme Court then denied review in March.

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The Cali Supreme Court also had left the precedent standing and SCOTUS has done the exact same thing. No recorded dissents for the SCOTUS decision (probably none for the Cali SC decision either). It can’t be appealed further. The only way this precedent would change is if a new, different case was brought that either the Cali Supreme Court or SCOTUS found more worthy of consideration.

I dunno about that headline. A Supreme Court ruling that federal law does not trump state law would be a major, major decision. Just because the Court declined to review a case doesn’t mean they were prepared to make such a startling ruling.

There are many areas of the law RIGHT NOW where federal law does not preempt state law. Federal law preempts only in cases involving the commerce clause and similar matters delineated in the constitution. Lots of SCOTUS rulings have overturned federal law in favor of state law in recent years.

The case is over. There’s nothing further to be appealed. In terms of what is binding for the principals, the effect is the same. They have to abide by the lower court ruling.

Gee, I wonder if RvW is next?

No, this doesn’t overturn any previous SCOTUS precedent. If they had chosen to review and uphold the lower court ruling, no SCOTUS precedent need have been overturned. There are many SCOTUS precedents on the books RIGHT NOW which state that federal law cannot pre-empt state law in this or that case. I think some have the impression that federal statutory law is supreme over state law, but that’s true only in the cases of interstate commerce and other areas mentioned in the Constitution.

Roe v. Wade was also not concerning the supremacy of federal statutory law (i.e. preemption). Roe v. Wade rested on constitutional law (something thought to be inherent in the constitution and incorporated against the states under one of the amendments)

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