HARRISBURG, Pa. (April 14, 2016) – Yesterday, the Pennsylvania House gave final approval to a bill legalizing medical marijuana in the state. If signed into law, it would take another step toward nullifying the unconstitutional federal prohibition on cannabis in practice.
The bill took a long, tough road to final passage. Sen. Michael Folmer (R-Lebanon) introduced Senate Bill 3 (SB3) in Jan. 2015. The legislation would legalize marijuana for medical use and set up a regulatory structure for the production and distribution of medicinal cannabis to qualifying patients in the state.
SB3 passed the Senate on May 5, 2015, by a 40-7 vote. It was carried over to the current legislative session, and an amended version passed the House on Mar. 16 by a 149-43 vote. The Senate approved amendments of its own, and sent the legislation back to the House. Yesterday, the House gave final approval by a 149-46 margin.
The legislation now goes to Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk. He will have 10 days to sign or veto the bill. It will become law without his signature if he takes no action. According to NORML, the governor has expressed support for medical marijuana and has pledged to sign the legislation.
Despite the federal prohibition on marijuana, measures such as SB3 remain perfectly constitutional, and the feds can do little if anything to stop them in practice.
EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION
If the governor signs SB3, it would partially remove one layer of law prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana in Pennsylvania, but federal prohibition would remain in place.
Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate marijuana within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.
While this Pennsylvania bill would not alter federal law, they would take a step toward nullifying in effect the federal ban. FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. By easing the state laws, the Pennsylvania legislature would remove some of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.
Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly-budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.
Once SB3 becomes law, the Keystone State will join a growing number of states simply ignoring federal prohibition. Colorado, Washington state and Alaska have all legalized both recreational and medical marijuana, and 23 states now allow cannabis for medical use. With nearly half the country legalizing marijuana, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition any more. The feds need state cooperation to fight the “drug war,” and that has rapidly evaporated in the last few years with state legalization, practically nullifying the ban.
“The lesson here is pretty straight forward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations or mandates down our throats,” Tenth Amendment Center founder and executive director Michael Boldin said.
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