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Medical marijuana laws vary widely from state to state and federal law and even local zoning ordinances can be in conflict with state medical marijuana law. Those who have a medical marijuana registration card can still experience legal issues and may even face criminal charges.
With California becoming the first state to legalize the use and sale of medical marijuana in 1996 — the first state to challenge the federal government’s strict laws concerning anything to do with cannabis or marijuana — several states soon followed suit.
Medical marijuana, or medical cannabis, is cannabis that has been authorized for medicinal use by a patient’s doctor. Many people use cannabis for medicinal purposes without lawful medical authorization and in certain jurisdictions, this can be risky. Without the protections offered to authorized patients, the use of the drug may be considered recreational rather than medicinal.
Despite the fact that it is unlikely to be prosecuted at the federal level for simple possession of marijuana, particularly if in a state that has loosened marijuana laws and/or if one is a medical marijuana patient, the federal government has ruled that federal law does prevail.
A first-time conviction for simple possession of marijuana — remembering that the federal government does not allow for any distinguishing for medicinal patients — is a misdemeanor offense. A second charge following a previous conviction leads to a felony offense. Trafficking of any sort is a felony offense with severe penalties.
However, possession of what is deemed to be a “personal amount” of marijuana may instead be a civil penalty (a fine of no more than $10,000 per violation).
Those convicted at the federal level for crimes related to marijuana — medical or recreational, as the federal government makes no distinction — could face a jail or prison sentence.
This is especially true when considering the trafficking of marijuana. Those dealing in large volumes of the drug could face a 10-year prison sentence.
Simple possession is a much less serious affair, and it is rare for federal resources to be spent on securing convictions, particularly given the legal argument for medical marijuana being made for patients at the state level. State laws vary, however, and in some states — such as Idaho, Kansas, Tennessee and South Carolina — marijuana remains entirely illegal for any purpose.
In states where the drug is illegal, even for those using it for medical purposes, punishments for simple possession range from fines to a jail stint of about six months. Distribution, or dealing, is treated more harshly. In some states, distributing small amounts of marijuana is a level 4 felony, resulting in a potential prison sentence of about four years in addition to a fine of up to $300,000.
While the TSA has explicitly stated that they do not search for marijuana, and do not consider the detection of marijuana in checked or carry-on baggage to be a priority, they have also publicly stated that if they do incidentally detect or find marijuana, they are forced to notify law enforcement.
Certain state agencies may not follow up with any further prosecution, while others may. Nonetheless, at this current point in time, federal law trumps state law on the subject, and the TSA does not endorse carrying marijuana on any flights under their administration.
If you are authorized to have medical marijuana, you must still comply with the laws of your state. If you are arrested for illegally obtaining a medical marijuana card or related offense while using marijuana, you will need the services of a medical marijuana lawyer to navigate through this new area of law.
In legal practice, experience matters. An experienced attorney will likely have handled issues similar to yours many, many times. Therefore, after listening to your situation, the attorney should have a reasonable idea of the time line for a case like yours and the likely resolution.
The goal of an initial consultation is to find an attorney you are comfortable working with and someone who can help you understand your options under the law. Seek to understand the relevant legal experience the attorney brings to your case. While it is not realistic to expect an attorney to resolve your legal issue during an initial consultation, you should gain a level of comfort with his/her ability to do so. A good consultation can clarify issues, raise pertinent questions and considerations for your case, and help you make an informed decision towards resolving your legal issue.
For most consumer legal issues, the size of the practice is much less important than the experience, competence, and reputation of the attorney(s) handling your case. Among the most important factors when choosing an attorney are your comfort level with the attorney or practice and the attorney’s track record in bringing about quick, successful resolutions to cases similar to yours.
Pro se – This Latin term refers to representing yourself in court instead of hiring professional legal counsel. Pro se representation can occur in either criminal or civil cases.
Statute – Refers to a law created by a legislative body. For example, the laws enacted by Congress are statutes.
Subject matter jurisdiction – Requirement that a particular court have authority to hear the claim based on the specific type of issue brought to the court. For example, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court only has subject matter jurisdiction over bankruptcy filings, therefore it does not have the authority to render binding judgment over other types of cases, such as divorce.