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Federal Marijuana Laws

As a practical matter, lower level marijuana crimes are not prosecuted at the federal level. Nevertheless, the possession of marijuana remains illegal under federal law even though 44 states have legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

Marijuana crimes at the federal level are regulated under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) (21 U.S.C. § 811) which does not distinguish between the use of cannabis for medical purposes or recreational purposes. Federal marijuana laws prohibit a person from possessing, cultivating or distributing large quantities of marijuana.

Under federal law, cannabis is a Schedule I drug which is classified as highly addictive and having no medical value. For this reasons, under federal law, physicians may not "prescribe" cannabis for medical use. In some states, physicians are permitted to "recommend" its use as a protected right under the First Amendment.

Attorney for Federal Marijuana Crimes in Des Moines, Iowa

The penalties for federal marijuana laws are serious. Federal judges, in several cases, have decided that a medical defense cannot be raised at trial and have sought to exclude this evidence during the trial. An experienced criminal defense attorney can protect at every stage of the case.

If you are under investigation at the federal level with the possession, distribution, or trafficking of marijuana, then contact an experienced drug crime attorney at McCarthy & Hamrock, P.C.. Our attorneys are experienced in fighting federal drug crimes for a variety of controlled substances including cannabis.

Let us put our experience to use for you. Call (515) 279-9700 today.


The DOJ Memorandum on the Enforcement of Marijuana Crimes

To manage the conflicts between state and federal law, federal agencies have issued guidelines and memorandums. For instance, on August 29, 2013, the Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a memo to prosecutors giving guidance about the enforcement of marijuana laws under the Controlled Substance Act (CSA).

The memo made it clear that it was not a priority to prosecute marijuana crimes when the participants were in compliance with state medical marijuana laws. The DOJ member contained eight guidelines for prosecutors to use when deciding priorities for enforcement. The guidelines included preventing:

  1. the sale or distribution of marijuana to minor children:
  2. the revenue from the sale of marijuana from going to criminal enterprises, gangs or cartels;
  3. the transfer of marijuana from states where it is legal under to state law in some form to other states;
  4. state-authorized marijuana activity from being used as a cover or a pretext to traffic other illegal drugs or other illegal activity;
  5. violence or the use of firearms in cultivation and distribution of marijuana;
  6. driving under the influence of marijuana and the exacerbation of other adverse public health consequences associated with marijuana use;
  7. the growing of marijuana on public lands and the attendant public safety and environment dangers posed by the production of cannabis on public lands;
  8. the possession or use of marijuana on federal property.

The Application of Federal Sentencing Guidelines in Marijuana Cases

The federal sentencing guidelines that apply to marijuana crimes depend on the amount of cannabis involved in the crime and whether the defendant has any prior convictions. Although all federal cannabis crimes are eligible for jail time, not all convictions require jail time under the federal sentencing guidelines which are now advisory and not mandatory.

The possession of over 1 kilogram of marijuana with no prior convictions carries a sentence of six to twelve months with a possibility of probation and alternative sentencing.

The possession of over 2.5 kilograms of marijuana with no criminal record carries a sentence of at least six months in jail. If the defendant has multiple prior convictions and possessed more than 2.5 kilograms of marijuana, then the sentence might range from two to three years in federal prison with no chance of probation.


Mandatory Minimum Requirements for Federal Marijuana Crimes

In addition to the sentencing guidelines, federal law also includes mandatory minimum sentences imposed by statute that can apply to large quantities of marijuana. For instance, federal law requires a five-year mandatory minimum for the cultivation of 100 plants or possession of 100 kilograms. A 10-year mandatory minimum applies to that offense if the defendant has a prior felony drug conviction.

Cultivation or possession of 1,000 kilograms or 1,000 plants carries a 10-year mandatory minimum. A 20-year mandatory sentence applies if the defendant has one prior felony drug conviction. A life sentence is triggered with two prior felony drug convictions for the same offense.


This article was last updated on Friday, July 14, 2017.

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