What Do Consumers Need to Know Marijuana Laws?

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When you sit down to enjoy the relaxing or creative benefits of your preferred marijuana strains, the last thing you want to think about is the laws surrounding your favorite medicinal herb. However, there’s always that lingering thought in the back of your mind: “What if I got caught?” 

Unfortunately, marijuana is still a very contentious legal subject — especially in regards to federal versus state laws. Besides crossing state lines and individual state mandates, what other laws or boundaries should you consider? How can you make sure that you stay protected while you’re lighting up your favorite bud? 

Here are some important laws and regulations to keep in mind to help you better enjoy your time as a marijuana user. Keep in mind, this is basic consumer knowledge and should not be used as legal advice — consult a lawyer if you need some legal help! 

Marijuana and Federal Versus State Legality 

Marijuana might be recreationally legal in many states, but unfortunately it is still classified as a controlled substance (specifically a schedule one narcotic — the most severe rating) by the federal government and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). What does this mean for consumers? Are you still protected within your state, or are you at risk of being federally charged? 

Well, prior to the Trump administration and the appointment of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General (AG), the Cole Memorandum provided some protection for individuals in states that had legalized marijuana from being prosecuted by the federal government. The memorandum, as well as a 2009 memorandum by previous AG David Ogden, instructed federal agents to “not focus federal resources in your States on individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana.”

However, Jeff Sessions rescinded (withdrew) that memorandum in January of 2018 meaning those individuals are no longer protected from federal prosecution. Unfortunately, this could mean a more active crackdown on marijuana dispensaries and growers — as well as recreational consumers (known as “adult-use programs”) — but experts don’t expect the changes to be very dramatic

Luckily for many consumers, the power to prosecute is in the hands of various state Attorney Generals that litigate throughout the country. These 93 AGs often operate with the laws of their community in mind, which could favor marijuana-friendly state laws as long as users stay within those state guidelines. 

Consumers should keep their state’s unique laws in mind so as to stay within the law. These laws can also change every legislative year, depending on new information that becomes available or new concerns raised by voters. 

For example, in Oregon there are very specific labeling laws for dispensaries to help them decipher between medical grade and THC-containing strains, as well as to keep marijuana out of the hands of minors. These laws most recently changed in May of 2017, but they could change again if lawmakers feel the labels are not accurate enough or exclude important information.  

When it comes down to the basics, marijuana is still federally illegal, and could potentially be prosecuted in a federal court. However, the best thing for you to do (as a consumer, whether recreational or medicinal) would be to review and understand your local laws. The more effort you can put into understanding and following your laws, the safer you will be. This also applies to knowing the legal distinctions between hemp, cbd, and marijuana. Different states have different regulations regarding the different substances, with Idaho having recently become the 50th state to legalize hemp production. 

The Importance of Getting a Medical License

Luckily, those who use marijuana for medicinal purposes under the guidance of a licensed physician could be protected from federal prosecution under the Rohrabacher–Farr amendment

This amendment was initially introduced in 2001, but was passed into law in 2014 with rare bipartisan support. Essentially, the law states: “None of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used, with respect to the States of [32 states listed, as well as D.C.], to prevent such States from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.”

The law does require a renewal every fiscal year in order to remain in effect, but it provides much needed support to medical consumers. So, if you live in a state that has legalized both medical and recreational use, it could still be well worth your time to get a medical card for your marijuana. 

Marijuana can be used for almost any ailment: from recurring body aches and headaches to more intense chronic life conditions (Crohn’s disease and IBS, chronic seizures, diabetes, cancer and chemo treatment, etc). If you suffer from any of these conditions, consult a physician about getting a medical marijuana license in your state. It might provide you with some additional protections.

What if You Have a History of Marijuana Possession in a Now-Legal State?

Although the federal government still holds harsh rulings on marijuana possession, many states that have recently legalized marijuana are beginning to reconsider old marijuana possession convictions. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures: “[Over t]he past three years, at least nine states have passed laws addressing expungement of certain marijuana convictions. In most of these states, expungement measures pair with other policies to decriminalize or legalize.”

In California, for example, the state law that legalized recreational marijuana also allowed past convictions to be put up for review. The reason behind this decision is simple: state legislatures recognized that many of the marijuana possession infractions were disproportionately affecting low-income minority groups. These minor convictions potentially barred them from qualifying for jobs, further harming these at-risk communities. To help reverse the harm this has caused the community, lawmakers decided it would be best to allow previous marijuana convictions the ability to be reviewed and potentially reversed. 

A similar measure has gone into effect in Seattle, and could result in hundreds of sentences being wiped from the record. In the end, if you have a history of marijuana convictions in a state that now legalizes recreational use, it could be well worth your time to review the potential for a record expungement. The NCSL provides a detailed list of significant legislature to review. 

Can You Mail Marijuana? 

Let’s say you have an aunt in California that has been having some bad headaches, and you’ve offered to send her some of your favorite buds to aid her condition. Can you mail marijuana (either in-state or out-of-state)? The short answer: no. The long answer: don’t try it, because you will be caught. 

In Colorado, especially, mail carriers have seen a rise in the amount of both marijuana edibles and buds being sent through the US Postal Service. According to a report from The Denver Channel, 2017 ended with a record 934 packages being seized in Colorado by mail carriers after drug dogs alerted officials of the controlled substances inside. For those who sent the packages, they could face federal sentences for attempting to distribute a controlled substance. One man in particular was noted by The Denver Channel for receiving one year in federal prison for attempting to mail 30 packages with marijuana out of state. 

Even in legal states, mail carriers (as federal employees) are taking distribution of marijuana very seriously. So put “mailing weed” right next to “crossing state lines” on your “Things Not to do With Marijuana” list.

Enjoy — Responsibly

As great as marijuana might be, it can be tricky to fully understand the many state and federal laws surrounding your favorite natural herb. However, that doesn’t mean you should enjoy it without considering the legal ramifications. Be conscious of your local laws, and consider getting yourself a medical license if you don’t have one already. 

Rest easy knowing you’re doing everything to protect yourself and your favorite recreational activity. Remember the power of knowledge — the more you know!

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Ainsley Lawrence

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