State and federal legislature on cannabis are like two teenage sisters; always in disagreement, always bickering, always at each other’s throats in ceaseless rage.
Ok so that last bit may be a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the idea – between state and federal laws on marijuana, there seems to be no possibility of approaching a middle ground of any kind.
But what does this mean exactly for you, the cannabis lover? Is your house going to get raided by the DEA when you bring home that fresh new ounce of smelly bud from your local dispensary? Or for that matter, have the feds ever busted anyone for legal state possession of cannabis?
In this article, we try and get to the bottom of the never-ending confusion that surrounds state vs. federal marijuana laws – it may seem a little confusing and complex at first glance, but in all reality, upon closer examination it’s even MORE confusing and complex than that. 😉
State vs. Federal Marijuana Laws: What You Need to Know
First and foremost, we’ll just go ahead and say that marijuana (and that’s ANY form of marijuana, including weed, CBD, edibles, etc) is 100% illegal on the federal level. No if’s and’s or but’s about it. The only “species” of cannabis that is legal federally is industrial hemp, which is essentially stripped of any therapeutic compounds and only good for making things like rope and clothing.
And even still, industrial hemp is not legal for regular citizens to grow at their private homes. The only people that are allowed to grow it (to our knowledge at least) are university researchers who have federal permission.
You can, however, own and operate a U.S. hemp-based business, but all of your hemp product must be imported from a foreign country.
So that’s federal law. Things get just a tad bit hairier when talking about individual state-by-state laws.
As of April 2018, marijuana is currently legal on a recreational level in nine U.S. states, in addition to Washington D.C. On a medical level, weed is currently legal in an additional 20 states (so 29 states total; i.e. the nine recreationally-legal states plus an additional 20 medical-only states).
But that’s strictly considering high-THC marijuana that gets you high. When considering CBD-only products (CBD is a therapeutic component of marijuana that does NOT get you high), an additional 16 states have separate laws. And moreover, 13 states have established some degree of decriminalization laws – meaning you can get fined for possession of weed, but you can’t go to (state) jail for it.
Confused yet? Don’t worry, we’re just getting started.
Actually, truth be told your best bet at understanding the current state-by-state laws in regard to marijuana legality is by simply checking out our updated state-by-state status.
What’s more important, in this article at least, is discussing what the conflicting legal status of state vs. federal laws mean for you, the cannabis user.
Can You Get Arrested for Weed in a State Where it’s Legal?
So here’s the ultimate question: is it possible to get busted by the feds for marijuana possession in a legal state?
Well, you’re going to hate us for this answer, but here goes: yes and no.
Basically, there was minimal conflict between state and federal cannabis legislation under the Obama Administration. In fact, Obama had presented an official memo to all legalized states declaring that the federal government “wouldn’t interfere where non-medical use of marijuana is allowed.”
Recently, however, as you likely have heard, the feds (and in particular one Mr. Jeff Sessions) have announced an intent to crack the proverbial whip down on states where pot is legal – local laws be damned. This includes former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s utterly asinine comments that seemingly compared marijuana use to the ongoing opioid crisis.
In all reality, though, this “crack down” is likely to have extremely limited effect on the “average” marijuana consumer – even those of you who buy ounces at a time and use it day-in-day-out in legalized states. In other words, if you’re using weed legally in a legal state, your chances of getting “busted by the feds” are virtually zero.
Basically, the federal government has always been more inclined to seek out traffickers of “hard drugs” rather than marijuana. Over the last few decades, in fact, the majority of weed enforcement has fallen on state agencies.
Federal Marijuana Enforcement: What Does it Even Mean?
So when the feds say they’re going to “crack down” on their (embarrassingly outdated) policy that weed is still 100% illegal in all forms, what does this really mean. If, like we just said, it has minimal impact on the average user, who does it have an impact on?
Essentially, those most at risk would be business and dispensary owners in legalized states, as well as the large-scale growers that supply them. And bear in mind that this is no small population – if even a percentage of suppliers and dispensaries in legalized states were shut down by the feds, massive financial repercussions (in terms of the impact on local state economies) would almost certainly ensue.
For instance, you may recall what happened in Los Angeles several years ago, back before weed became legalized recreationally. Essentially the city of L.A. had something like 900 fully operating pot dispensaries, even though it was technically 100% illegal at that time. Local authorities (i.e. the Los Angeles County police) were tasked with enforcing the laws, which back then (circa 2014 or so) were extremely loose with regard to cannabis. However, when the local “power men” decided to crack down after seeing the number of illegal dispensaries grow out of control, hundreds of dispensaries were shut down essentially overnight.
If the federal government decides to actually put its money where its mouth is and really crack down on state weed laws like it says it’s going to do, then a similar situation could hypothetically happen when we would see high-profile shops all around Colorado, Washington and the like get chopped down with a swift chop of the axe.
However, this is still a MASSIVE if – with the income and state tax revenue that legalized states have shown in the short few years that they’ve been around, this is very unlikely to actually happen. If anything, what would be more likely to happen is for the array of functioning-but-not-fully-certified dispensaries to get shut down. Which, by the way, probably wouldn’t even be a bad thing.
All in all, it appears that we (and by “we” I mean us as Americans) don’t have a lot to actually be concerned about in terms of conflicting state vs. federal marijuana laws. When all’s said and done, overall progress over the last several years with regard to legalization has been extraordinary, and we only expect it to increase.
In fact, it may only be a matter of time before we see the feds step up to the plate and implement certain levels of cannabis legalization on their own. That would certainly be the day, wouldn’t it?
Final Thoughts on State vs. Federal Marijuana Laws
So again, we’ll go ahead and reiterate the fact that as an average weed consumer, you have very little to worry about in terms of getting “busted by the feds” for smoking weed in your home state – regardless of what these people like Sessions and Spicer are spewing from Washington.
Of course, though, this by no means implies that you should be foolish with your pot consumption. If you live in a state where weed is not yet legal, you are still fully liable to get busted by local authorities, and perhaps even spend time behind bars.
Also, even if you do live in a legalized state, you can still get busted if you don’t act responsibly and follow all state laws. Marijuana reform has grown by leaps and bounds over the last several years here in the U.S., but we’re still a long ways away from our ultimate long-term goal.