Marijuana is a substance that is derived from the dried flowers and leaves of the cannabis sativa, or hemp, plant. Marijuana is the most widely used illicit drug in the United States.
Marijuana is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance. It is known for its mood-altering psychoactive effects that provide a high which can affect an individual’s entire body.
Usually, the plant is smoked in a joint, or rolled cigarette, or in a pipe. However, there are a variety of other methods which can be used for ingestion, including edibles.
In addition to the high it produces, many individuals use marijuana to treat symptoms of illnesses. This has prompted many states to pass laws that allow certain patients access to the substance.
The most potent psychoactive agent in marijuana is THC. Cannabidiol (CBD) produces therapeutic benefits that have been recognized within the medical community.
CBD can be used to aid in the relief of:
- Epileptic seizures;
- Psychosis; and
- Other medical issues.
Marijuana can also help increase the appetite of a cancer patient that is going through chemotherapy treatment. There may, however, be side effects of using marijuana, including dependence.
Potential liability may also be imposed if an individual drives or operates heavy machinery after ingesting marijuana. It is important for an individual to consult with their doctor and make an informed decision prior to using any type of substance to treat any medical issues.
What are Federal Marijuana Laws?
Although marijuana laws vary by state, federal laws do not. Federal laws remain fairly strict on this outlawed drug.
The Controlled Substances Act declared marijuana a Schedule I drug, meaning it has a high potential for abuse in addition to no medically acceptable purpose. Therefore, a physician can only legally write a recommendation for its use and not a prescription.
Because federal laws prohibit the use of marijuana, an individual or a business that is in compliance with state marijuana laws may still encounter legal issues with the federal government. The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) enforces federal drug laws.
In the case of Gonzales v. Raich, the Supreme Court held that, even if a business is in compliance with state law, it can still be federally prosecuted. The DEA, although it has the power to prosecute these types of cases, has shifted its focus from businesses to pursuing and prosecuting criminal activities related to the drug, including:
- Organized crime;
- The same of marijuana to minors;
- Distribution of marijuana to states without legalization;
- Driving under the influence of marijuana; and
- Any other unlawful activities that are associated with its use.
Although this apparent shift in focus may bring some relief to a business owner, the fear of federal prosecution can still linger.
What are State Marijuana Laws?
Marijuana laws vary greatly by state. Some states have legalized cannabis within certain parameters, whereas other states prosecute its possession to the fullest extent of the law.
Some areas have instituted medical marijuana programs, including:
- About half of the fifty states;
- The District of Columbia; and
- The territories of Guam and Puerto Rico.
7 of the states have legalized recreational use of marijuana. North Carolina and Wisconsin have legislation pending and may soon be included in the following list of states with a medical marijuana program:
- New Hampshire;
- New Jersey;
- New Mexico;
- New York;
- North Dakota;
- Rhode Island;
- West Virginia;
- District of Columbia*;
- Guam; and
- Puerto Rico.
*Indicates recreational legalization
States that punish possession of small amounts of marijuana with a civil infraction and a fine instead of misdemeanor or felony charges include:
- New York;
- North Carolina;
- Rhode Island;
- Vermont; and
Can I Transport Marijuana Over State Lines?
The laws governing the transportation of marijuana over state lines is a federal jurisdiction issue. Even if marijuana is legal in both of the states, crossing state borders increases the risk of federal prosecution.
If an individual were to transport marijuana from one legalized state to another, the individual would still be breaking federal law. If an individual were to transport cannabis from one state where it has been legalized to another where it is illegal, not only is it possible for the individual to be federally prosecuted, but also by the state in which it is banned.
What is Medical Marijuana?
Medical marijuana refers to the use of the whole plant of the plant extracts to treat symptoms of illnesses and other medical conditions. Although the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not recognize or approve marijuana as medicine, scientific research has led to two FDA-approved medications in a pill form that contain cannabinoids, the chemical found in marijuana.
- States, in general, require the following requirements to be met before an individual becomes a medical marijuana patient:
- The individual must have a recognized medical condition;
- One or more physicians must have approved the use of medical marijuana for the patient; and
- The patient must carry a medical marijuana card, and register with the state, if required.
What are the Different Types of Federal Medical Marijuana Prosecution?
Although the federal government classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug, the enforcement of marijuana laws are not as prevalent as before. If the federal government were to prosecute, the following groups of individuals are typical defendants:
- Cultivators: Individuals involved in growing medical marijuana plants may be prosecuted regardless of whether the state permits its use;
- Distributors: Where medical marijuana is legalized, licensed distributors are subject to federal prosecution for distribution of a Schedule I drug, even though they are registered with the state; and
- Doctors: Because medical licenses are a federal issue, doctors may be sanctioned, regardless if medical marijuana is legal in the state.
What are the Medical Marijuana Penalties?
The penalties that are associated with medical marijuana depend largely on the state or the federal government. In states where marijuana is decriminalized, fines and penalties including civil violation tickets may still exist, especially when individuals fail to follow the law.
In states where marijuana is illegal, penalties such as those associated with misdemeanor or felonies may apply, which include jail time, criminal fines, or a combination of both.
There are common circumstances that often lead to arrests in medical marijuana cases, including:
- Amount in possession is above what is legally allowed;
- The cultivation of plants where it is not legal;
- Possession of paraphernalia; and
- The unlicensed sale of marijuana to others.
If an individual holds a medical marijuana card, yet is still charged with possession, they may use their symptoms or medical condition associated with having the card as a defense.
Do I Need a Lawyer?
Cases that involve medical marijuana can be complex, especially because the laws at the state and federal level are different. The penalties that are associated with these charges may be severe and life-changing.
If you have been accused of a crime related to marijuana, it is important to consult with a drug crime attorney. Your attorney can help build your case, walk you through the legal process, and represent you in court.