The Confusion Over Federal and State Marijuana Laws
As of this writing, 36 states allow for the medical use of cannabis products, and 18 states have enacted legislation to regulate cannabis for nonmedical use. The state of Connecticut was the 18th state to legalize the recreational use of cannabis for adults.
Whether you are in a state that has approved the use of marijuana for medical or recreational reasons, you can technically still be charged with a federal drug crime if you use or dispense the drug. This is because federal law almost always overrides state law, and despite the legalization of marijuana for various uses in different states, it is still considered an illegal drug under federal law.
Differences Between Federal and State Law
The federal Controlled Substances Act prohibits any use of marijuana, categorizing it as a drug with no accepted medical purpose and a high potential for abuse. In states that have passed medical marijuana laws, a person is allowed to use medical marijuana to treat a debilitating condition. The person must have a prescription from their doctor for one of the approved medical conditions the state law allows. Medical marijuana laws also regulate the producers and dispensaries licensed to produce the drug and it is at these dispensaries where people are required to purchase their medical marijuana.
When it comes to recreational use, each state has its own rules on what is allowed. Under Connecticut’s law, it is legal for adults 21 years and older to possess up to 1.5 ounces (42.5 grams) of marijuana.
While it has been the policy of the federal government to not prosecute individual users for using according to state law, legal marijuana dispensaries (under state law) and others growing marijuana have nevertheless been raided by federal authorities. The Supreme Court has ruled that such federal prosecution of state-approved users is constitutional because the federal government can criminalize marijuana use, even where states decriminalize it.
In some cases, federal authorities just confiscate the marijuana, while in other cases, the individuals who are arrested are prosecuted. The penalties if convicted are usually very stiff. This result seems unreasonable when one considers that the person arrested was operating legally under state law. These prosecutions, in light of the release of the policy guidance from the federal government, also lead to confusion. This can make some potential business owners pause before opening a business for fear of future federal prosecutions.
Until concrete changes to the federal Controlled Substances Act are made, the future of federal prosecutions for state-sanctioned use of marijuana is uncertain. Therefore, even a licensed user or dispensary owner following state law could potentially be prosecuted for drug crimes under federal law.
Contact a Fairfield County Drug Crimes Attorney
If you have been charged with any kind of drug crime – either federal or state – contact a Stamford, CT defense attorney to find out what kind of defense you may have to these charges. Call Law Offices of Daniel P. Weiner at 203-348-5846 to schedule a free consultation.