Will the Feds Arrest You for Medical Marijuana?

medical marijuanaImagine if you’re living in Oregon or Colorado and using marijuana under your doctor’s care.  Along comes the U.S. Department of Justice to arrest for violating federal laws prohibiting marijuana possession.  Sound crazy?  In the near future, the feds may arrest you for possessing medical marijuana.

The new Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, has been joined by others in the Justice Department who are advocating a return to strict and tough enforcement of the federal ban on marijuana.  See U.S News and World Report  https://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2017-06-06/dojs-mysterious-marijuana-subcommittee?int=news-re

Can they really arrest for your possessing medical marijuana?  In a state where possession for any reason is legal?


Even though seven states have passed relaxed laws about marijuana, the federal laws prohibit anyone from possessing medical marijuana—or any marijuana.  Is this something new?

Under President Obama’s Justice Department, and Assistant Attorney General named Cole, published what became known as the “Cole Memorandum” in 2013.  It said that although federal law prohibited the possession of any marijuana, if the use is medical marijuana, the Justice Department was not going to prosecute those cases.  There were many reasons given for this: marijuana was determined to be less toxic than alcohol and less addictive, the cost of prosecuting and convicting medical marijuana users wasn’t worth it, and the federal government gave some credit to the wishes of the citizens of those states that “legalized” marijuana.

This made sense to me.  The federal prosecutors have a lot more important and high-impact cases to chase after compared to possession of medical marijuana.  The cost of finding offenders, arresting them, going to trial, and even the cost of sentencing is not worth it.

The new Attorney General has upended the Cole Memorandum.  So far, it is not clear exactly what he means to do about people who possess medical marijuana.  He can certainly order the local federal prosecutors to start prosecuting these cases.  Will it work?

My sense is that it won’t.  Even if he orders it, many local prosecutors are in disagreement—because of the limited resources they have now and the costs of prosecuting these cases—it’s not worth the cost.  The penalties which would be imposed by judges probably won’t be tough enough to change any behavior.

What’s interesting to me is that the conservatives in the Justice Department always talk about “state’s rights” but now, under Jeff Sessions, they are ignoring the wishes of people and the rights in their states.

What’s really tough are the farmers who have invested thousands of dollars in marijuana farms—they could potentially face prosecution and the loss of many jobs.

Considering that Jeff Sessions was an early Baby Boomer, here’s my question: what was he doing in college when everyone else around him was smoking pot?


About Colin Nelson

Colin T. Nelson worked for 40 years as a prosecutor and criminal defense lawyer in Minneapolis. He tried everything from speeding tickets to first degree murder. His writing about the courtroom and the legal system give the reader a "back door" view of what goes on, what's funny, and what's a good story. He has also traveled extensively and includes those locations in his mysteries. Some are set in Southeast Asia, Ecuador,Peru, and South Africa. Readers get a suspenseful tale while learning about new places on the planet. Colin is married, has two adult children, and plays the saxophone in various bands.

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