As you may know, there are more than one set of criminal laws that govern people in this country. The criminal laws most people are familiar with are the state criminal laws that are promulgated by each state’s legislature. State police, prosecutors and court systems handle the majority of crimes in this country. State laws vary from state to state. Of course, there are also federal criminal laws which are a single set of laws promulgated by Congress that apply in all states. Most criminal conduct that is illegal under a state’s criminal laws is also illegal under the federal laws. However, some conduct may be legal under one set of laws and illegal under another set of laws. Medical marijuana may be one such issue.
Many states are considering enacting laws that make medical marijuana legal. Florida does not have a law that makes medical marijuana legal. Marijuana laws in Florida can be quite severe depending on the nature of the crime. Like Florida, federal criminal laws also have not legalized marijuana for any reason. Because the federal government has not budged on the medical marijuana issue, some states are reconsidering whether to make medical marijuana legal. A couple of years ago, the Department of Justice’s stance was that it was a waste of their time and resources to go after people dispensing medical marijuana if the state in which they operate allows it. Given the increasingly limited resources with which we are working in this country, that seems like a pretty logical position.
However, more recently, the Obama administration has indicated they might go after (i.e. arrest and prosecute) those involved with some of the larger medical marijuana operations even if they are in compliance with their state’s laws.
As an example, New Jersey was in the process of implementing its new medical marijuana laws. However, they have put those efforts on hold because they are not sure what the response will be from the federal government. Will the federal government raid medical marijuana shops that are legal under their state’s laws or will they defer to the state’s intentions to make medical marijuana legal and focus their efforts on more serious and important problems? Until these questions are answered, medical marijuana dispensers who operate in states where it is legal still face the risk of arrest and prosecution from the federal government.