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Marijuana – State vs. Federal Law


In the 2012 General Election, Washington and Colorado both passed laws that make it legal for individuals over the age of 21 to possess small amounts of marijuana, even without a medical card. Oregon also had that law on the ballot, and the voters turned it down. So the law in Oregon remains the same; you must have a medical card (and obey the law regulating the card) or you will be prosecuted.

In Washington and Colorado, however, the situation is not so simple. Although it is now okay under State law to possess small amounts of marijuana, the Federal law remains unchanged; even those persons with a medical card can and will be prosecuted in Federal court. While the reality is that persons who behave under State law are not likely to be prosecuted, there is always the risk you might be. So what to do?

Colorado’s Governor has said that it is not yet time to break out the munchies. However, Colorado’s Attorney General has stated that their office will help make the switch to not prosecuting marijuana possessors, and at least one District Attorney has instructed their office to stop citation and prosecution for possession of less than one ounce of marijuana. In Washington, Governor Chris Gregoire has set up a meeting with the U.S. Attorney General’s Office to discuss how the State and Federal law can and will coexist.

Under Federal law, the FBI or DEA can shut down any shop that sells marijuana. Under State law, selling marijuana in a shop is now legal in Washington and Colorado. The question is, will the passage of these new laws be the beginning of the end for marijuana prohibition? Oregon has said NO, and the Federal Government is likely to say NO. This subject remains a matter of social and political controversy, but there may come a time when marijuana is no longer illegal in all 50 states. Until then, nobody is safe from prosecution under Federal law.

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