Appeals Case Challenges Federal Medical Marijuana Prohibition

The federal government classifies drugs into “schedules” based on their perceived level of dangerousness. Schedule I – the most strictly regulated and harshly punished category – is reserved for drugs that have a significant risk of abuse, no currently accepted medical use and are considered unsafe to use, even under medical supervision.

Heroin, MDMA/ecstasy, PCP, LSD and hallucinogenic mushrooms are all classified as Schedule I drugs. Somewhat surprisingly, so is marijuana.

Although many states, including California, have legalized the medicinal use of marijuana, the federal government still considers the drug to have no recognized medical benefit. This may soon change, though, as the result of a case recently heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

The case was brought by Americans for Safe Access, a California-based organization that advocates on behalf of medical marijuana patients. It wants the Drug Enforcement Administration to reschedule marijuana based on scientific evidence that it says shows the drug can be safe and effective for medicinal use. For example, The Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research at the University of California – San Diego has conducted six studies that demonstrated marijuana’s ability to remove pain related to nerve damage. Among the plaintiffs in the case are several medical marijuana patients who claim that marijuana has proved more effective than any other treatment for their serious health problems.

If the lawsuit is successful, the federal government will reschedule marijuana into one of three categories reserved for drugs that, although they carry some risk of dependency, are still recognized as having safe and effective medical uses.

Federal Marijuana Penalties

In the meantime, it is important to remember that the possession, sale or cultivation of marijuana – even for medical use – is still a serious crime under federal law.

Under federal law, the possession of any amount of marijuana is a misdemeanor. A first offense can bring up to a year of incarceration, while subsequent offenses can result in mandatory minimum prison sentences of between 15 and 90 days and a maximum of three years of incarceration.

The sale or cultivation of marijuana is punished much more strictly. Selling less than 50 kilograms or growing fewer than 50 plants is a felony punishable by up to five years in federal prison. The penalties increase with the quantity of drugs sold or produced. On the high end, the sale of 1,000 kilograms or the cultivation of 1,000 plants can result in a federal prison sentence of 10 years to life and a fine of up to $1 million.

These penalties apply even when the conduct could be considered legal under California’s medical marijuana laws. If you have been charged with a federal marijuana crime, an experienced California drug crimes defense lawyer can help you protect your rights.