Could Paul’s Marijuana Bill Redefine Federal-State Relationships?

Today three senators are planning to introduce a Senate Bill that could have a major effect on the Federal-State relationship. The bill seems innocuous enough at first glance, Rand Paul along with Corey Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand want to prevent Federal officers from prosecuting marijuana users in states where it has been legalized.

This bill could have more importance, legally, beyond the realm of either medical or recreational marijuana use because it reasserts the right of state law to trump federal law in the United States. Many laws in the Anglo-American world are set on precedent, once it happens once – such as with this law – others may follow. In short, this brings back to the fore the 10th Amendment, which is rarely invoked against federal law, but reads:

‘The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.’

The Current Situation

Currently, 23 states have passed laws by popular mandate – as voted by its citizens during an election/referendum – to legalize medical marijuana. Two further states have legalized recreational marijuana use. However, due to international treaties and laws on drug use, federal law still makes the use of and selling of marijuana illegal.

The consequence is two-fold. Firstly, people who smoke pot for medical reasons in the 23 states and those who use it recreationally in the two states are at risk of prosecution by federal agents if they do what state law allows. Thus far, prosecuting such people has not been on the federal agent agenda. Secondly, it makes it impossible for people who sell medicinal pot or recreational pot, where legal, to do so through bank accounts. The filing of federal taxes may also be difficult to say the least.

Potential Roadblocks

The bill’s passage is not guaranteed and it may be amended prior to passing through the Senate and being sign by the President. With that in mind it is impossible to guess how the law will work and how it will affect the state-federal relationship. If passed, it would give states primacy over an element of law – what drugs can and cannot be used or how they can be used. It suggests that such a change could lead to others.

There is a strong undercurrent in the Republican party to do the opposite of Rand Paul’s proposed bill. That would mean using federal law to go after marijuana users and sellers where it has been allowed under state law. That would be the opposite of a libertarian state arrangement, but consistent with centralized federal law. It would also need bipartisan help from the Democrats to get through. It is possible, therefore, that the bill is a gambit by Ron Paul to put his name out there to get the libertarian vote in the upcoming race to be nominated as a presidential candidate. However, if it is genuine, it could be an interesting rediscovery of the 10th amendment and a step back from federal control.

How to Emigrate to Canada safely and legally

Canada is a popular emigration destination for Americans and this is mainly because of the short distance and cultural differences. Canada is a reasonably laid-back country with stunning scenery and an abundance of wildlife, making it somewhat idyllic for those wanting to escape a busy life in the US. However, emigrating to another country isn’t a decision which should be taken lightly and just because they’re next door, doesn’t mean you can simply hop over the border and start living there. Financial and legal aspects of emigrating both need to be taken into account.

Legal requirements

Visa – If you’re visiting Canada for over 180 days, you need a visa. American citizens can usually obtain a visa under the ‘economic stream of immigration’, which means that if you have a particular skill, such as an engineer, you shouldn’t have any problem. However, if you’re emigrating from another country, such as the UK, a decision may take a lot longer. Other aspects of your life taken into account when you apply for a Canadian visa are your age, level of education, income, health, whether your family is coming with you and whether you have a job already waiting for you. These regulations are in place to ensure Canada only allows the most desirable candidates to live in their country.

Taking care of your finances

Banking – Although it’s sensible to open a Canadian bank account before you move in order for all your funds to be transferred in time, it is possible to bank across the border from Canada, which can make the transition slightly easier. Ask your bank what the best option is and whether they have counterparts in Canada.

Healthcare and taxes – Health insurance is paid for via your taxes, similar to the NHS in the UK and therefore, you’ll no longer need to pay for your separate health insurance in the US. Make sure you cut this off as soon as possible, pay any cancellation charges promptly and apply for public health insurance in Canada as soon as you can.

Tax rates in Canada are not too dissimilar to those in the US. The amount you pay depends on where you live and how much you earn. The US, however, allows for you and your spouse to join your incomes for a joint return, where Canada doesn’t. The US also allows additional deductions.


How to Decide if You’re Ready to Declare Bankruptcy

By Doug Hoyes, Founder and Trustee, Hoyes, Michalos & Associates

You have debts, so you are considering the obvious permanent legal solution: Declaring bankruptcy or filing a consumer proposal. All of your debts will be eliminated, and you can get on with your life. But is it really that simple?

The decision to take the formal legal step of filing personal bankruptcy or a consumer proposal should not be made lightly. There are some benefits, but there are also costs to be considered.

Benefits of Formal Insolvency

The benefits of formal insolvency are obvious. Most of your unsecured debts are eliminated, including credit cards, bank loans, and even taxes owed to the Canada Revenue Agency. The phone calls and collection actions stop, and you have peace of mind.

Once you are out of debt, you can begin to rebuild your finances. Your monthly cash flow improves, since you no longer owe debt payments, making it easier to make ends meet and even begin to save.

Costs of Bankruptcy

There are of course costs to be considered as well. Bankruptcy isn’t free. You will generally be required to make a monthly payment to your bankruptcy trustee (based on your income), and you risk losing certain assets. There will be a note placed on your credit report for a minimum of six years after your bankruptcy is completed, so in addition to the out-of-pocket costs of bankruptcy, your ability to borrow in the future may be severely impacted for a period of time.

You can borrow after bankruptcy, but only after you have taken steps to rebuild your credit, and only generally if you have a sufficient income and a down payment or security deposit.

Weigh the Pros and Cons

So what should you do? Is it better to simply deal with the debt on your own and avoid bankruptcy? Avoiding bankruptcy is generally the preferred option, but whether or not you need to file for bankruptcy depends on your specific circumstances.

If you have a significant amount of debt, it may be mathematically impossible to ever repay it on your own. If your net pay is $2,000 per month and you have $50,000 in unsecured debt, it would take over two years to repay your debt in full if you had no living expenses and the loans were interest free! That’s unrealistic for most people.

If you have assets that can be liquidated to pay the debt, you can sell your assets or refinance your home in order to avoid bankruptcy. If, however, you have limited or no assets, bankruptcy becomes the more plausible option.

If you are threatened with legal action such as a wage garnishment, a legal solution such as bankruptcy may be necessary. In fact, a significant number of the personal bankruptcies I have filed over my career were initiated by the debtor’s realization that if they did nothing they would end up with a wage garnishment. For many people, that’s the deciding factor: If your debt has become a legal problem, a legal solution is required. A wage garnishment will not stop until it’s paid in full unless you get legal creditor protection in the form of a bankruptcy or consumer proposal.

So how do you decide if you can deal with your debts on your own, or if formal insolvency is required? If it will take you many years to repay your non-mortgage debts on your own, or if you are threatened with legal action, a bankruptcy or consumer proposal should be considered. In Canada, a bankruptcy or consumer proposal can only be filed through a licensed bankruptcy trustee. You don’t have to make the decision on your own – consult a trustee to talk about all of your options.

Justice Brownstone Featured in World Pride Video

We are proud to say that Justice Harvey Brownstone is prominently featured in the globally disseminated promotional video for WORLD PRIDE which will be occurring in Toronto June 21 – 29, 2014. He will also be giving a keynote presentation with triumphant United States Supreme Court litigant Edith Windsor at the International Human Rights Conference on Wednesday June 25, 2014. Details at You can see the video here:

5 Big Challenges Divorced Moms Face

Because divorce is never really part of the plan, many recent divorcees have some very real struggles to cope with. As they grapple with life’s new complications, divorced Moms face several main challenges during their lives after marriage.  Taking a moment to look at the main problems which divorced mothers are experiencing today, we see true resilience and brave women finding solutions. Divorced moms facing these 5 major issues are sharing their tips with the community and are overcoming the sometimes adverse affects of divorce. 

New York Law Helps Fight Hepatitis C

Governor Andrew Cuomo recently signed a new law that will require hospitals and health service providers in New York to offer Hepatitis C diagnostic tests to all patients born between the years 1945 and 1965. Citizens are being advised to avail of this new system, in order to stave off potentially life-threatening disease. The new law will see the use of the OraQuick® HCV Rapid Antibody test, the only FDA-approved rapid test for the detection of antibodies to the Hepatitis C virus. The test provides results in 20 minutes, leading to improved rates of delivery of results, early diagnosis and corresponding referral to treatment and prevention services, in order to stop the spread of the disease. The law, first passed on June 20th, 2013, saw hundreds of members of HIV/AIDS organizations such as VOCAL New York, make every effort to pass it, taking part in numerous outreach visits to state legislators, holding rallies and organizing legislative briefing and advocacy events in an effort to help people discover their Hepatitis C status. “Many people living with hepatitis C can now be cured with new medication that’s available.  But they can only be cured if they know their status early enough,” said representatives of VOCAL New York.

Disability Approval Rates Decline in the US

New data has revealed that administrative law judges hearing cases for the Social Security Administration’s Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) are applying far stricter criteria in approving disability applications. In ODAR’s Wilkes-Barre office in Pennsylvania, a trend mirrored by the rest of the nation reveals significantly increased rates of rejection. In the year 2010, 64 per cent of cases were approved; in 2011, that number dropped to 54 per cent, in 2012 to 48 per cent and in 2013 to 42 per cent. The result is a noticeable upsurge in the number of appeals filed before federal courts and an immense backlog of cases which federal courts cannot keep up with. New legal measures are already being considered to reduce the size of this backlog, with lawyers representing claimants providing crucial commentary and advice on the matter.

Let’s Sleep on It: How Good Sleep Hygiene is Crucial for Relationships

It’s the ultimate healer – for others, the ultimate scourge. It’s the essential component of everyday life, and the seemingly mystical otherworld we enter into at night. It’s our entrance into the world as we know it and our departure. We can never seem to get enough of it, and it threatens to make or break us as our management of the 24-hour system becomes ever more hectic. As an avid night owl, I hate sleep – and yet I covet it. And I also know that it’s the axe which looms over the finely woven cord which ties a relationship together – the cord which emphasizes love, trust, and thoughtfulness, but can be severed in an instant simply because of SLEEP.

Divorce and Your Family Finances

The end of a marriage can be devastating for everyone involved, regardless of the circumstances by which it occurs. Sometimes, if both partners are wiling, it’s possible to work through your marital problems, but unfortunately this isn’t always a viable option. Getting divorced will play havoc with your emotions, but it’s important to try and keep a clear head to deal effectively with the financial issues involved so that you can resolve your family matters with as little distress as possible.

Your Provincial Laws

When you first start thinking about your finances, the most important thing to understand is the laws in your province that pertain to asset distribution. If your property is considered jointly owned or personally owned according to whether or not it was acquired through the efforts of one or both partners, it is important to remember that this doesn’t automatically mean that any and all property you acquired while married counts as jointly owned.

Bank Accounts, Assets, and Investments

The simplest way to divide cash and assets, if both partners are agreeable, is to split everything you currently have down the middle, or agree to split assets based on what assets and debts each party brought into the marriage, and contributed during it. Either option can work when both partners are employed, and there are no children involved.

If, however, you have children, it’s likely that you or your partner has been out of the workforce—and therefore neither of these options might be viable. When one parent has worked outside the home building a career that will continue to generate income, and the other has spent that time doing unpaid work in the home, asset division is more complicated. Generally, the parent who was out of the workforce won’t be able to re-enter it at a comparable income level to the parent who continued to work. In some instances, the courts typically direct the non-custodial parent to make financial contributions, such as mortgage payments, if the custodial parent’s income is significantly lower. In all other situations, the principles of equitable distribution apply.

The House and Mortgage

Splitting up possessions and any cash you have in bank accounts is relatively simple—the mortgage is not quite so easy. If you and your partner have a mortgage, you typically have three options: both parties move out and the house is sold, one person remains in the home and buys out the other party, or you both retain ownership and split the mortgage payments. The first option is the cleanest: the mortgage is paid off, and both parties make a fresh start in a new house. Sometimes, however, it’s not financially viable to sell right away: if the housing market took a downturn since you bought the property, you might end up owing money on the mortgage.

Often the second option is preferred if there are children in the marriage, with the custodial parent remaining in the home and buying out the other parent. If one partner will retain ownership of the house, the mortgage should be refinanced According to , “when two people take out a joint mortgage both are agreeing to be equally liable for the debt for the duration of the mortgage, not just while you live there”. This is also true in the US and Canada: if both your names are on the mortgage, you’re both responsible for ensuring it continues to get paid, and both liable if there are any future payment problems. Therefore, if you agree that one partner will retain ownership, the mortgage and title deed should reflect this as soon as possible—preferably with most of the details sorted out before the divorce is final. Refinancing isn’t always possible, of course—for this option to work, the partner who’s retaining the house must have the income and credit rating needed for mortgage approval.

If the mortgage is almost fully paid, or if selling the house isn’t financially viable, you may decide to retain the house and split the mortgage payments. For the same reasons as outlined for the second option, it’s a good idea to get the agreement in writing, even if you’re still on pretty good terms with your ex. If he or she defaults on their share of payments, it’ll end up reflecting on your credit score, too.

What about Debt?

Mortgage aside, it’s generally a bad idea to continue holding jointly-owned debt after a divorce. The best option is to cancel all joint credit cards as soon as possible: neither party should have the ability to generate more jointly-owned debt, particularly if the divorce becomes acrimonious. While it’s preferable to pay off all debt in full, this isn’t always possible. In this case, once the amount of debt each person is responsible for has been agreed on, each balance should be transferred to a new personal credit card

Dispute over a cello: wills, estates, and family conflict

wills and estates (and cellos)

This dispute by two sisters over a cello is a good example why it is important to address wills and estates. Read more at Dinning Hunter’s Victoria Law Blog.

If you have ever tried to figure out with your adult siblings how to provide for the needs of an ageing parent, you’ll know that the family dynamics can suddenly change, and not always for the better. Of course, the death of a parent will also fundamentally affect the sibling dynamic.