Medical marijuana is now legal to use in the majority of states in the U.S. Medical marijuana can provide relief to patients suffering from a variety of health conditions. Even though medical marijuana has benefits for many people, not all states allow patients to possess it. And under federal law, marijuana is still illegal.
That means crossing state lines with medical marijuana can lead to federal criminal charges. If you were charged with drug possession or drug trafficking after an arrest involving your legally prescribed medical marijuana, you should talk to a criminal defense lawyer about your rights and options.
Treatment of marijuana has changed a lot over the past couple of decades. Marijuana possession and growing cannabis plants used to be illegal everywhere in the United States. However, in 1996, California became the first state to allow the legal use of weed for medical use. Since that time, more states have joined in allowing medical marijuana with a prescription or state medical marijuana card from a doctor.
More than 35 states and U.S. territories have passed medical marijuana laws. Even many states that do not allow medicinal marijuana permit people to use medical CBD or low-THC products. These state medical marijuana laws were passed with support from many in the medical community and patients suffering from conditions like:
Drugs and controlled substances are categorized by federal law under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). Under federal law, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug, along with heroin and LSD. Schedule I drugs are defined as having “no currently accepted medical use in the United States, a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision, and a high potential for abuse.”
Despite doctors and health care professionals across the country finding medical uses, acceptable safety, and a low potential for abuse, the federal government disagrees.
Each state has its own laws regarding medical cannabis. The majority of states now recognize medical marijuana and allow possession and use of weed under the direction of a doctor. However, travel between states is under the jurisdiction of the federal government. Even if you are doing something legal in your state, when you travel across state lines, you may be subject to federal laws. A marijuana prescription or medical marijuana card from your home state does not provide you a defense to transporting marijuana between states.
TSA agents and law enforcement inside the airports may be more concerned with terrorism and large-scale drug trafficking, but marijuana possession is still a federal crime. Airports and airlines are generally under federal jurisdiction.
If you try to pass through security or board a flight with medical marijuana, even if a doctor legally prescribed it to you under your state’s laws, you could be arrested.
Federal drug penalties for marijuana are based on several factors, including:
Federal marijuana possession charges involving a small amount of medical marijuana are generally treated as misdemeanors for a first offense. Penalties may include up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $1,000.
If you allegedly possessed a larger amount of medical marijuana, there could be a presumption that you were going to sell the drugs instead of using them personally. Selling marijuana — even medical marijuana — is a felony, with penalties including five years or more in federal prison and fines of $250,000 or more.
Marijuana cultivation is also a felony. Traveling with medical marijuana plants can result in five or more years in federal prison and fines of $250,000 or more.
There are a lot of stories of people traveling across state lines with legal weed. People even get on planes with THC extract or edibles, without worrying about the police. Until federal law changes, however, you are running the risk of being arrested on federal drug charges.
The greater the amount of marijuana involved when traveling, the more likely police may be to make an arrest. While in some cases police may look the other way or allow you to throw something away, it is likely not worth the risk.
Showing your medical marijuana card or a receipt from a dispensary will not do much to help your federal case. However, the prosecutor still has to prove all the elements of a criminal charge.
Medical cannabis laws are continually evolving. As more states legalize recreational and medical cannabis, the federal government is under increased pressure to take cannabis off the Schedule I drug list. However, government law enforcement and federal prosecutors still take drug charges seriously, and so should you.
This article is intended to be helpful and informative. But even common legal matters can become complex and stressful. A qualified medical marijuana lawyer can address your particular legal needs, explain the law, and represent you in court. Take the first step now and contact a local medical marijuana attorney to discuss your specific legal situation.