A pair of court rulings out of Arizona have made it clear that some state judges are willing to look the other way when interstate truck drivers are caught in possession of marijuana. But as the number of such cases increases, it is still in a truck driver’s best interests to avoid pot altogether. Why go looking for trouble?
In the most recent Arizona ruling, the court decided that interstate truck drivers found in possession of one ounce or less of marijuana can’t be prosecuted in the state. The court’s ruling essentially found it inappropriate for local and state officials to prosecute federal crimes.
That being the case, the issue is still far from being settled. Courts continue to have varied opinions on the matter, so much so that Arizona officials say they are likely to keep pursuing similar cases.
Caught at the Border
This most recent case in question stems from an arrest and charges after a truck driver was caught possessing marijuana at an Arizona-Utah border checkpoint. Given that he was on the Arizona side of the border when caught, the driver was prosecuted under Arizona law. Had he been caught on the Utah side of the border the case probably would have turned out much differently.
This particular case brings up three important issues:
1. Cannabis Under Federal Law
Cannabis remains illegal under federal law. As such, it is illegal for interstate truck drivers whose work is regulated by the DOT to possess cannabis in any amount. Federal law remains in force in all fifty states.
2. Transporting Across State Lines
Transporting cannabis across state lines is also a federal crime regardless of whether the person doing it is driving a truck. But it is not just a federal issue. Transporting across state lines is also illegal in Utah.
According to the folks behind Deseret Wellness in Provo, all cannabis consumed in the state must be grown, processed, and sold in the state. Outside operators are not allowed to bring product into Utah from elsewhere. That means the truck driver was breaking the law when he entered the state with cannabis in his possession.
3. The Superiority of Federal Law
Finally, the U.S. Constitution affords superiority to federal law when it conflicts with state law. So just because Washington has chosen to turn a blind eye to medical and recreational cannabis programs at the state level doesn’t mean federal law is now subservient to state law. It is not.
Who Gets to Prosecute Federal Crimes
Ultimately, these truck driver cases boil down to the question of who gets to prosecute federal crimes. If the state court decision applied to this most recent case were applied across the board, could it be said that state officials have no authority to prosecute any federal drug crimes? If so, that’s dangerous ground to tread.
There are all sorts of federal crimes that state prosecutors prosecute without issue. Courts do not bat an eye. So why is this particular issue any different? It shouldn’t be, yet some state courts have decided that it is. They have decided that state officials cannot prosecute federal laws, thereby making such laws subservient to their state counterparts.
If you are a truck driver whose work involves interstate transport, at least a few courts think you should be able to possess marijuana in cannabis-friendly states. But common-sense dictates otherwise. The issue is not settled by any means. So your best bet is to just avoid having pot altogether. Getting caught in possession could still mean charges and the loss of your license.