Swickard: Who is really in charge?

© 2014 Michael Swickard, Ph.D. It is possible for someone in New Mexico to get hurt or even killed. Why? There is an ambiguity among our local, county, state and national agencies as to who has the final police authority in New Mexico. No one knows and each thinks they do. Let me illustrate: it is legal for New Mexicans who comply with regulations to have medical marijuana. There is no ambiguity in New Mexico’s laws.
     However, the federal government considers medical marijuana an illegal substance subjecting the person to the full fury of the federal government. The State of New Mexico says it is legal while the Federal Government says it is not.
     There should never be a time in a nation of laws for something to be legal and illegal concurrently. But that is not as big a problem as the question: who ultimately is in charge in police matters?
The second example came recently when Otero County Commissioners asked Otero Sheriff Benny House to open a gate in Otero County that was shut by a federal authority. The feds insists on a closed gate, Otero County wants an open gate. They told the Sheriff to open it. Neither side intends to give an inch.
     Imagine if I legally possessed medical marijuana. And imagine if Governor Martinez was in my truck as we were stopped by the Border Patrol. They would detect marijuana and attempt to confiscate it even though I showed my paperwork.
     Whether I was with Governor Martinez or my own County Sheriff we would have a difficulty. How would it play out? We do not know because it is not clear who is the final authority in New Mexico. Our New Mexico Constitution says it is the Sheriff of that county. Would the feds listen?
     So let’s say I asked Governor Martinez to protect my legal property. Perhaps she would tell her State Police bodyguards to protect us from the feds. Well, friends, it could get dangerous. Who would back off? The federal government has become a military of their own with tanks, planes and guns galore. Read full column