Federal law says marijuana is a crime, regardless of what voters say in Colorado or other states.
The United States is not a pure democracy, in which majorities govern at the ballot box. It is a constitutional republic of laws that often trump the whims of popular opinion. As shown with same-sex marriage, property rights, guns and free speech, federal law tends to override the state ballot.
At least one federal judge understands as much, regardless of the Obama administration’s hands-off approach to state-by-state legalization.
U.S. District Judge R. Brooke Jackson on Tuesday dismissed a suit that sought to establish the first credit union for marijuana in Colorado. His nine-page opinion boiled down to one simple and obvious point: It “would facilitate criminal activity.” Federal criminal activity, that is.
Under instruction from President Barack Obama, the U.S. Department of Justice distributes guidelines on how banks can work with legal marijuana businesses. The guidelines promise federal prosecutors will not pursue investigations unless specific conditions are not met. On that basis, Denver-based Fourth Corner federal credit union, chartered in November by Colorado, petitioned the federal courts for permission to do business with Big Marijuana. None of the Justice Department’s capitulation swayed Jackson in the least. After all, he’s not a prosecutor. He is a judge. He is an arbiter of law, not public opinion or Justice Department memos.
“These guidance documents simply suggest that prosecutors and bank regulators might ‘look the other way’ if financial institutions don’t mind violating the law,” Jackson wrote. “A federal court cannot look the other way.”
Jackson explained the federal government remains committed to enforcement of drug laws, even if prosecutors have the option to “apply certain priorities in making enforcement actions.” The exercise of prioritized enforcement among prosecutors, he wrote, “does not change the law.”
But Jackson’s opinion didn’t begin and end with the simple and common-sense suggestion a federal judge should uphold federal law. He explained how failure to do so, in regard to marijuana and banking, would burden the public. Example: If a pot business goes bankrupt, he wrote, “debtors cannot obtain bankruptcy relief because their marijuana business activities are federal crimes.”
Thank you, Judge Jackson, for defending the rule of law. Federal laws are enacted to keep society safe, fair and just. We count on federal judges to enforce them unless and until they are changed.
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