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A large majority of drug prosecution cases occur on the state level. But when federal prosecutors get involved, the consequences can be much more serious. It’s unclear whether a recent memo issued by the Department of Justice could apply to medical cannabis patients following their state laws.
The amount of a substance in your possession is often the deciding factor for federal or state charges. Generally, federal crimes carry much stricter sentences than state level offenses. Federal cases often deal with drug trafficking or distribution while state cases often deal with simple possession charges.
Attorney General Sessions said that the purpose of the memo was “returning to the enforcement of the laws as passed by Congress, plain and simple." Meanwhile, his memo seems to ignore that Congress recently passed a law that included a budget provision which prohibits the Department of Justice from prosecuting medical cannabis patients until September 30, 2017.
The memo focuses on the conduct of drug traffickers, and encourages prosecutors to seek the highest possible penalties available under statute. This includes mandatory minimum sentences. Under federal mandatory minimum sentences, possession of cannabis is punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of $1,000 for a first conviction.The Trump Administration still has yet to provide a clear and consistent stance on how medical cannabis fits into its enforcement priorities. However, the memo released today indicates a trend towards harsher treatment of drug users and drug offenders than in recent years.
This is yet another unsettling development leaving advocates and patients asking the question, “What is Sessions planning to do?” The only way to ensure that patients and programs are protected is to pass permanent federal legislation preventing federal interference in state medical cannabis programs.