Does medical marijuana program protect against federal prosecution?

State laws regarding medical marijuana use may not protect everyone from federal prosecution due to a new view by federal authorities.

In Pennsylvania, medical marijuana use has recently been made legal. According to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Act passed under Act 16 of 2016. The Act allows residents with certain serious medical conditions, including autism, cancer, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease and post-traumatic stress disorder, to use marijuana to alleviate pain and potentially improve their quality of life. However, even though it has been made legal in the state, any type of marijuana use is still illegal according to federal regulations.

Looking at federal regulations

According to a 2013 memo from the U.S. Department of Justice, marijuana is considered a dangerous and illegal drug. Federal authorities see the substance as being a revenue source for gangs, cartels and other criminal groups. With the legalization of marijuana in some states, the Department of Justice refocused some of their efforts to ensure the limited resources were being used against significant threats rather than people using the drug according to state laws. Some of the priorities the Department of Justice use when determining which cases are worth pursuing, include the following:

  • Cracking down on driving under the influence
  • Prohibiting the use of public lands to grow marijuana
  • Preventing drugs from crossing into states where its use is not legal
  • Stopping the distribution to minors

Beyond the priorities set, the federal authorities rely on local agencies to handle marijuana use according to state laws. In other words, anyone using the drug in accordance with the Medical Marijuana Act may not have to worry about being prosecuted for a federal crime according to this guidance.

Seeing a shift

A 2018 memo from the Office of the Attorney General shows a new take on the prosecution of marijuana use. Rather than follow the guidance that protected individuals, growers and distributors who followed state laws, prosecutors are now being encouraged to widen their search.

Understanding the changing stance

This does not necessarily mean that everyone involved in the legal marijuana trade are in danger of being investigated. Instead, it means federal prosecutors have to determine whether the use affects the community in negative ways. It is hard to know who will be affected by this change in view. It is possible all growers, shopkeepers and distributors could face federal repercussions. Another possibility is that this new stance was brought about to simply slow down the growth of legal marijuana use.

Some Pennsylvania residents who suffer from serious medical conditions are able to use marijuana legally according to the state's Medical Marijuana Act. If anyone using the drug according to the Act is concerned about being charged with possession, it may be beneficial to work with an attorney who is familiar with this type of criminal law case.