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Federal Laws on Marijuana Crimes

The federal sentencing laws for any marijuana offense include harsh punishments under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) (21 U.S.C. § 811) which provides the framework for federal regulations of drugs.

The federal laws against marijuana are typically only enforced in cases involving larger quantities of marijuana. For many cases involving smaller quantities of marijuana, local law enforcement officers make an arrest for prosecution in state court.

Cannabis is still a schedule 1 controlled substance and banned under federal law and possession is a felony punishable, depending on quantity, by up to a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence (21 USC § 841).

In Raich, the Supreme Court held that the Commerce Clause gives the federal government the authority to regulate (including issuing a law to ban) cannabis that is grown and consumed in a single state as an extension of Commerce Clause precedent going back to World War II (See Wickard v. Fillburn, 317 US 111 (1942).

There is currently a prohibition on federal funding for the DOJ to prosecute marijuana users who are 100% compliant with state law (US v. McIntosh), although that isn’t necessarily a defense to a charge under federal law.

Federal laws do not differentiate between marijuana used for medical purposes or marijuana used for recreational purposes. The medical marijuana defense is not expressly recognized under Federal law. Nevertheless, during pre-trial negotiations, the medical marijuana defense is often effective when properly asserted for mitigation purposes.

Judges have limited the defense attorneys’ ability to fully assert such a defense at trial, although the defense often has a right to present evidence related to the medical marijuana defense for the jury’s consideration when warranted by the facts of the case.

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Marijuana as a Schedule I Drug

Federal law assigns every drug to a schedule based on the drug’s accepted medical value versus its potential for abuse. Because marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug because the law assumes that marijuana has no acceptable medicinal value while being highly addictive.

Generally, doctors may exercise their right to free speech by recommending the use of marijuana under the First Amendment, although federal law does not allow a doctor to “prescribe” marijuana.

Federal Marijuana Sentencing Laws and Guidelines

In determining a potential sentence under Federal law for any marijuana offense, two types of sentencing schemes must be considered – the minimum mandatory Federal sentencing laws, enacted by Congress. and the sentencing guidelines created by the United States Sentencing Commission.

The sentencing guidelines assign a range for the recommended sentences based on several factors including:

  • the quantity of marijuana involved in the offense; and
  • the defendant’s criminal record.

Every marijuana conviction under Federal law can result in imprisonment, although the sentencing guidelines do not provide for imprisonment as a guideline sentence in certain cases. Prosecutions involving a low quantity of marijuana by an individual with no criminal history can result in only probation sentences or alternative sentences.

For any federal sentence imposed that requires imprisonment, the defendant must serve a minimum of 85% of that sentence.

Minimum Mandatory Sentences for Marijuana Under Federal Law

Larger amounts of marijuana typically come with harsher minimum mandatory sentences. For instance, the cultivation of 100 plants or the possession of 100 kgs or more results in a 5-year minimum mandatory prison sentence under federal law. The minimum mandatory sentence is doubled for this offense if the defendant has any prior conviction for a felony drug charge.

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The cultivation of 1,000 plants or possession of 1,000 kg or marijuana triggers a ten-year minimum mandatory sentence. A prior conviction for any drug offense will result in a twenty-year minimum mandatory sentence. With two prior felony drug convictions, the defendant faces a life sentence.

Even cannabis cuttings with hair-like root structures can count as “plants” for purposes of determining minimum mandatory sentences under Federal law. Contact a criminal defense lawyer at the Sammis Law Firm to discuss your case and the way we fight marijuana crimes.

Week in Review—Fort Wayne

FORT WAYNE, IN—The United States Attorney’s Office announced the following activity in federal court:

Plea (before Magistrate Judge Roger B. Cosbey):

  • Michael Bure, 27, of Fort Wayne, Indiana pled guilty to the felony offense of bank robbery. The magistrate is recommending that the district court accept the tendered guilty plea. Parties have 14 days in which to object to the magistrate judge’s recommendation. This charge was filed as a result of an investigation by a joint task force of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, state, and local law enforcement. Sentencing has not been set. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Lesley Miller-Lowery.

If convicted in court, any specific sentence to be imposed will be determined by the judge after a consideration of federal sentencing statutes and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines.

Dispositions (before District Judge Theresa L. Springmann):