Confusion surrounding enforcement of marijuana laws

Marijuana laws can be very confusing. After the last election, the recreational use of marijuana is now allowed in two states . A handful of other states allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes. Other states, like Texas, do not allow the use of marijuana for any reason.

The variation between state and federal law on this issue can be difficult to understand. This is also true of laws in medical marijuana states, which vary widely with regards to how many ounces of usable marijuana one can possess and whether or not the user needs to be registered and carry a card.

Keeping marijuana laws straight can be problematic for those who can legally use marijuana in one state and are traveling to another state with different laws. The confusion builds when trying to distinguish between which government entity has the authority to regulate marijuana laws, the individual states or the federal government through the Controlled Substances Act.

Federal authority versus state authority

Under federal law, marijuana is a Schedule I substance and is not recognized by the federal government as having any medical benefits. This is different from some state laws that do recognize marijuana as having medical benefits.

The federal Controlled Substances Act mandates that the approval of drugs and the classification of them into different schedules must be done on both scientific and legal bases. The Act classifies marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance for the following reasons:

  • It can easily be abused
  • There is no medical use for it that is currently accepted by the federal government
  • Using the drug under medical supervision still lacks accepted safety standards.

Since marijuana is a Schedule I substance, the federal government considers growing marijuana, selling marijuana and possessing marijuana to be a federal crime, even in states that have legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use.

Confusion of marijuana laws

Since marijuana possession and use are legal in some states, people in those states abide by the state laws. However, since it is illegal under federal law, anyone who uses or possesses marijuana regardless of his or her location could be prosecuted.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a memo to federal prosecutors that helped guide them in terms of which cases to prosecute. Essentially, the DOJ stated that it is an inefficient use of resources to prosecute those using the drug for medical reasons, and that law enforcement should instead focus on prosecuting those who are in the business of cultivating, selling and distributing marijuana.

The confusion regarding whether or not authorities will prosecute people who possess marijuana for medical use has become burdensome for those who legally possess marijuana under state laws and hit a checkpoint when traveling.

The U.S. Border Patrol has checkpoints set up on busy highways. Even though some of these checkpoints are in states where the medical use of marijuana is legal, the checkpoints are controlled by the federal government, and the agents enforce federal laws. If someone who has legal medical marijuana is stopped at a checkpoint, the officer could enforce federal law and charge the individual with a federal crime. Whether or not the federal officer will actually do this is unclear and confusing.

The confusion between federal and state drug enforcement authority could have devastating consequences. Furthermore, the possession of marijuana is currently illegal in Texas and many people are arrested and charged with drug crimes each year. An individual who has been charged with possession of marijuana or other drug-related crimes could benefit from consulting with an experienced criminal defense attorney.