Several jurisdictions allow doctors to recommend the use of marijuana for the treatment of various medical conditions. These jurisdictions are: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and D.C. These states have removed all criminal penalties for the possession and use of marijuana for medical purposes. With the exception of Delaware, they also allow cultivation of marijuana by the patient or their primary caregiver, but limit the amount that can be grown.
Maryland has not legalized medical marijuana, but medical use is a defense to a charge of marijuana possession in that state. This might change with future elections.
Anyone seeking to use medical marijuana under state law should note that the cultivation and trafficking of marijuana is still illegal under federal law. Medical use is not a defense.
The fact that a patient was acting in accordance with state law will not be a defense to federal drug charges. However, the federal government rarely concerns itself with the possession and transport of small amounts of marijuana for personal use (though there have been exceptions), so a patient acting in accordance with the laws of their state may not face any criminal charges.
How Much Medical Marijuana Can Qualified Patients Possess?
The states that allow the use of medical marijuana vary in the amounts that a patient may have at any given time. They range from 1 ounce up to 24 ounces. The legal possession limits for each jurisdiction are:
- 1oz – Alaska, Montana, Nevada
- 2 oz – Colorado, D.C., New Hampshire, New Jersey, Vermont
- 2.5 oz – Arizona, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, Rhode Island
- 3 oz – Hawaii
- 6 oz – Delaware, New Mexico,
- 8 oz – California
- 24 oz – Oregon, Washington
Two states do not measure possession limit of medical marijuana in ounces. Instead, Connecticut permits one month supply of medical marijuana for qualified patients. Massachusetts permits qualified patients to hold sixty day supply’s worth of medical marijuana.
How Does a Patient Qualify for Medical Marijuana?
The conditions for which medical marijuana may be used generally include glaucoma, nausea related to chemotherapy for cancer or AIDS, chronic pain, and any condition characterized by seizures or muscle spasms.
Typically, a patient with one or more of these conditions must have a physician’s note. Some states may require two, especially if the patient is a minor. Many states which permit medical marijuana also require that the patient register with the state and keep a state-issued medical marijuana card on their persons at all times.
How Does Federal Law Affect State Laws?
Anytime federal and state laws conflict, the federal law prevails. Therefore, since Congress bans all marijuana use, states and their residents are not immune from the federal government enforcing federal laws, even if the drug is permitted under state law.
Note that federal regulation is not limited to federal prosecution. State laws cannot force federal agencies or federal courts to change federal policy. If the IRS wishes to audit a patient or if a bankruptcy court denies discharge to a dispensary, the federal agency or federal court is fully empowered to do so.
Note that, as of December 2014, Congress has passed a budget provision that prohibits the use of federal funding to prevent state implementation of medical marijuana programs. Although the use of marijuana for any purpose is still illegal under federal law, passage of this law will limit the number of federal prosecutions in states that recognize medical marijuana at the budget was passed. Individuals and businesses in states that have not passed medical marijuana programs will not be protected.
However, this provision only limits interference with medical marijuana. If the Justice Department can prove that marijuana possession, cultivation, and/or distribution was for recreational use, the provision would not be an obstacle to prosecution. In addition, this provision has a sunset clause; it will expire September 2015. Congress will have to renew the provision in each budget or remove the sunset clause for this change in policy to be permanent.
Seeking Legal Help
If you have an issue involving medical marijuana, you should speak with a criminal defense attorney with experience handling drug-related issues.