Marijuana comes from the dried flowers and leaves of the cannabis sativa (hemp) plant, and is the most widely used illicit drug in the United States. Marijuana is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance, and is known for its mood-altering psychoactive effects that can produce a high that can affect the entire body.

Typically, the plant is smoked in a pipe or joint (rolled cigarette), but a variety of other methods, including edibles are used for its ingestion. Aside from the high, many individuals use it for illnesses and their symptoms, prompting many states to pass laws that allow patients access to the substance.

THC is the most potent psychoactive agent within marijuana, whereas Cannabidiol (CBD) produces the therapeutic benefits known within the medical community. CBD can aid in the relief of pain, inflammation, epileptic seizures, and psychosis, amongst a host of other medical issues. Marijuana can also help increase the appetite of cancer patients going through chemotherapy treatment.

There are also side effects of using cannabis, including dependence. Potential liability may also pose a problem if someone drives or operates heavy machinery after its ingestion. It is always a good idea to consult your doctor and make an informed decision prior to using any type of substance for a medical issue.

What are Federal Marijuana Laws?

Though states vary on marijuana laws, federal law does not, and remains quite strict on the outlawed drug. The Controlled Substances Act declared marijuana a Schedule I drug, with having a high potential for abuse, along with no medically acceptable purpose. Therefore, doctors can only legally write a recommendation for its use, and not a prescription.

Since federal law prohibits the use of marijuana, individuals and businesses who are in compliance with state marijuana law have subsequently encountered legal problems with the federal government. The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) is tasked with enforcing federal drug laws, and until recently, has brought down many cases on people who were in compliance with state law, but not federal. In Gonzales v. Raich, the Supreme Court held that even if a business is in compliance with state law, it may still be federally prosecuted.

The DEA, though granted the power to prosecute these cases, has shifted its focus from businesses to pursuing and prosecuting criminal-related activities surrounding marijuana, including: organized crime, sales of marijuana to minors, distribution of marijuana to states without legalization, driving under the influence of marijuana, and any other unlawful activities associated with its use. Though this apparent shift may bring some relief to business owners, the fear of federal prosecution still lingers.

What are State Marijuana Laws?

Marijuana laws vary greatly from one state to another. Some have legalized cannabis within certain parameters, whereas others prosecute its possession to the fullest extent of the law. Roughly half of the fifty states, the District of Columbia, and territories Guam and Puerto Rico have instated medical marijuana programs. Seven of those states have gone further, by legalizing its recreational use. North Carolina and Wisconsin currently have legislation pending, and may soon be included in the following list of states with a medical marijuana program:

*Indicates recreational legalization
**A new law that eliminates criminal penalties for possession up to 3/4 oz. for adults goes into effect September 17, 2017

  • Alaska *
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • California*
  • Colorado*
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Maine*
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts*
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Montana
  • Nevada*
  • New Hampshire**
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oregon*
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
  • Washington*
  • West Virginia
  • District of Columbia*
  • Guam
  • Puerto Rico

States that punish possession of small amounts of marijuana with a civil infraction and a fine, rather than a misdemeanor or felony include:

  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Maryland
  • Illinois
  • Louisiana
  • Maryland
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • Nebraska
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
  • Guam

What Amount of Marijuana Do I Have to Carry to Violate State Marijuana Laws?

If you are so inclined to use cannabis, it is imperative to know how much, if any, you are allowed to possess in accordance with your state laws. The following table is a brief rundown of those laws, and includes the District of Columbia, Guam, and Puerto Rico:

  • CBD: Cannabidiol is considered a less or non-psychoactive cannabis compound used for medical purposes, particularly in the treatment of epileptic seizures.
  • Tax Stamps: Those in possession of marijuana are legally required to purchase and affix state-issued stamps onto contraband.
  • MMS: Mandatory minimum sentence for those convicted of drug offenses.

Transporting Marijuana Over State Lines

The law regarding the transportation of marijuana over state lines is a federal jurisdiction issue, and it also concerns what is legal or illegal within each state. Even if marijuana is legal in both states, crossing the border increases the risk of federal prosecution. If you were to transport cannabis from one state where it is legalized, to another where it is illegal, not only is it possible to be federally prosecuted, but also by the state where it is banned. If you were to transport the drug from one legalized state to another, you would still be breaking federal law.

What is Medical Marijuana?

Medical marijuana simply refers to using the whole plant or its extracts to treat symptoms of illness and other medical conditions. Though the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not recognize or approve the plant as medicine, scientific research has led to two FDA-approved medications in pill form that contain cannabinoids, the chemicals found in marijuana.

States generally require the following 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.
  • The patient must carry a medical marijuana card, and register with the state, if required.

Types of Federal Medical Marijuana Prosecution

Even though the federal government classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug, its enforcement is not as prevalent as before. In 2013, the Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a memo regarding the enforcement of marijuana under the Controlled Substance Act (CSA), which made prosecuting medical marijuana cases less of a priority. If the federal government were to prosecute, the following groups 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.
  • Doctors – Since medical licenses are a federal matter, doctors may be sanctioned, regardless if medical marijuana is legal in the state.

Medical Marijuana Penalties

The penalties associated with medical marijuana largely depend on the state, or, the federal government. In states where it is decriminalized, fines and penalties such as a civil violation ticket may still exist, particularly when an individual fails to follow the law. In states where it is illegal, penalties such as a misdemeanor or felony are also possible, along with jail time and fines.

Common circumstances leading to an arrest on medical marijuana charges may include:

  • Amount in possession is above what is legally allowed.
  • The cultivation of plants where it is not legal.
  • Possession of paraphernalia.
  • The unlicensed sale of marijuana to others.

If an individual holds a medical marijuana card, yet is still charged with possession, he or she may use the symptoms or medical condition associated with having the card as a defense.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

Medical marijuana cases can be complex, particularly since laws at the state and the federal level differ. The penalties associated with these cases can be severe and life-changing. If you have been accused of wrongdoing, an experienced criminal defense attorney can help build your case, walk you through the process, and represent you in court.