Yes, there are federal regulations on medical marijuana. Under federal law, it is illegal to grow, possess, use, and sell marijuana. Under federal law, there is no exception for medical or recreational uses of marijuana.
Even if an individual only possesses a small amount of marijuana, it is a federal criminal offense. Possession of marijuana without the intent to distribute is a federal misdemeanor that is punishable by up to one year in jail and criminal fines of up to $1,000.
Almost every state and certain municipalities have passed laws that legalize the medical or recreational use of marijuana use in recent years. Growing and distributing marijuana is currently legal under state laws in certain states.
However, is it important to note that if there is ever a conflict between state and federal law, federal law will always prevail. Medicinal use of marijuana is legal in almost every state in the United States.
In general, federal law enforcement authorities will not prosecute medical or recreational marijuana as long as individuals adhere to the law of the state where they live and do not sell marijuana across state lines.
Types of Federal Medical Marijuana Prosecution
Marijuana is federally classified as a Schedule I drug. As noted above, an individual involved in the cultivation, distribution, prescription, and marketing of marijuana can be subject to prosecution under federal law, even in states that have legalized medical marijuana.
There are certain groups of individuals who are typically prosecuted, including;
- Cultivators: Individuals who grow and cultivate marijuana for medical reasons, even if it is permitted by the state, may be subject to federal prosecution;
- These individuals are in violation of the Controlled Substances Act, which makes it illegal to grow, cultivate, or manufacture Schedule I drugs;
- Distributors: In states where medical marijuana is legalized, some distributors have state permission to distribute marijuana to individuals who have prescriptions or medical cards; and
- Doctors: In states where medical marijuana is legalized, doctors may face legal issues. Doctors will typically not face criminal prosecution. However, because medical licenses are federally distributed, the government does have the ability to sanction doctors.
Which States Permit Medical Marijuana?
As of 2023, 38 states allow the use of medical marijuana. There are only three states that do not have any cannabis access laws on the books, including:
Medical marijuana states include:
- New Hampshire;
- North Dakota;
- Puerto Rico;
- South Dakota;
- U.S. Virgin Islands; and
- West Virginia.
The states listed above have removed all criminal penalties for possessing or using medical marijuana for medical purposes. Some states allow the use of low THC, high cannabidiol marijuana products for medical purposes in certain situations, including:
- North Carolina;
- South Carolina;
- Wisconsin; and
It is important to note that if an individual possesses medical marijuana in the states listed above for an approved purpose, they will not be charged with a drug crime. This means that possession of medical marijuana for medical use may be used as a legal defense in certain cases.
How Does Federal Law Affect State Laws?
Generally, the legal rule is that when federal and state laws conflict, federal law will prevail, as noted above. Because Congress has banned all marijuana use, states and their residents are not immune from the federal government enforcing its laws, even if the drug is permitted under state law.
Are There Any Legal Issues Associated With Medical Marijuana?
It is important to note that any individual who is seeking to use medical marijuana under their state laws should keep in mind that cultivation and trafficking of marijuana is still illegal under federal law. Because of this, it is very important to follow the state laws governing medical marijuana and ensure that they do not take medical marijuana across state lines.
In these types of federal cases, claiming marijuana was for medical use will not be a legal defense. Additionally, the fact that the individual was acting in accordance with their state laws will not be a defense to other federal drug charges.
The federal government rarely prosecutes for possession and transport of small amounts of medical marijuana for personal use. This means that patients who act in accordance with medical marijuana laws in their state may not face criminal charges.
The federal government, however, does concern itself with marijuana for personal use traveling across state lines, especially in high quantities.
Are There Any Limitations to a Medical Marijuana Defense?
If an individual is charged with possession of marijuana but claims they need to use it for medical purposes because it helps their medical condition, stating that may be a defense. Medical marijuana defenses do have limitations, however, including:
- Only certain states and jurisdictions have legalized medical marijuana. If an individual is in a state that has not, the defense does not apply;
- Even if an individual lives in a legal state, if they are arrested with marijuana in a state where it is not legal, an individual can be prosecuted;
- It is an affirmative defense. An individual can use it at trial, but they can still be arrested first;
- Even if an individual does live in a state that allows medical marijuana, states have a limit as to how much marijuana a patient can possess;
- Marijuana possession over the limit is not protected;
- This defense only applies to possession. An individual charged with distribution of marijuana cannot use a medical marijuana defense; and
- If an individual does live in a state with legal medical marijuana, they are generally required to be on the registry of individuals with qualifying medical conditions;
- If they are not on the registry, they may be arrested and have to claim their defense in court.
Medical marijuana use may be a defense for a marijuana possession arrest, but it cannot completely be relied upon.
What Happens if My Medical Marijuana Card Expires? What Happens if I Don’t Renew?
In order for an individual to legally possess medical marijuana, they must obtain a state-issued medical marijuana card that adds them to the medical marijuana registry in the state. Every state has different processes for obtaining these cards.
Each state requires a signed recommendation from a licensed physician that states the individual has a qualifying condition and that marijuana would help treat that condition. A valid medical marijuana card also allows the holder to purchase marijuana products, including edibles and cannabis oil.
Additionally, as noted above, states often allow patients with medical marijuana cards to grow their own marijuana plants for personal use. The amount they can grow, however, varies widely by state.
If an individual allows their medical marijuana to expire, they will lose the ability to legally purchase medical cannabis. The same applies if an individual does not renew their card.
Dispensaries do not accept expired cards. If an individual’s card has expired, they can search for a “medical marijuana lawyer near me” who can help them with the renewal process.
Should I Contact a Lawyer about My Use of Medical Marijuana?
If you have any issues, questions, or concerns related to the medical marijuana laws in your state, it is important to consult with a drug lawyer. If you have been charged with a marijuana drug crime, you should consult with a medical marijuana lawyer as soon as possible.
Your lawyer can advise you of the laws and available defenses in your state as well as federal law. Your attorney will represent you during any court appearances and help ensure your rights are protected.