State and Federal Law for the illegal Possession of Marijuana

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State Marijuana Laws

State marijuana laws are becoming increasingly liberal. In November 1996, California became the first state to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes. Currently, as of May 2017, 44 states have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes. Some states have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana (charging civil fines instead of imposing jail time). And, eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized the adult use of recreational marijuana.

Federal Marijuana Laws

However, federal law still prohibits all use, sale, and cultivation of marijuana. Under federal law, any possession of marijuana is a crime punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. And, the federal government imposes harsh penalties for the sale and cultivation of marijuana—up to a lifetime sentence under certain circumstances.

Marijuana Dispensaries

Marijuana dispensaries are places where consumers can purchase either medicinal or recreational marijuana. In 2011 and 2012, the federal government cracked down on these retailers, resulting in the closure of many marijuana dispensaries.
However, the federal government issued the Cole Memo in 2013, encouraging federal law enforcement to focus on marijuana operations that:

The Cole Memo also encouraged enforcement in cases involving impaired driving, public health concerns, and use or possession on federal property. Under President Obama, federal authorities rarely filed charges involving legalized marijuana.

Conflict between State Law and Federal Law

Unfortunately, a federal law will always preempt (or trump) a state law. In other words, even if marijuana use, cultivation, or distribution is legal in your state, you can still face serious federal charges. However, federal authorities typically focus on high profile and high-volume distributors and growers. 

It is unclear how the current administration will approach marijuana policy. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has historically favored strict enforcement of the federal laws. However, other administration members have hinted that marijuana enforcement is not a top priority at this time. 

If you are involved in state-licensed marijuana cultivation or distribution, you should seriously consider speaking with a criminal defense lawyer. A lawyer can help you prepare for possible criminal charges and protect your rights.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

If you have encountered criminal charges for possession or distribution of marijuana, you should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately. Both state and federal punishments for the illegal possession or use of marijuana can be very severe and have long-lasting consequences. A criminal defense attorney can help you understand your rights and can represent you during a trial.

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Last Modified: 06-06-2017 12:37 AM PDT

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