Marijuana is slowly but surely being legalized, or at least decriminalized, throughout the United States. In 1996, California was the first state to legalize marijuana for medical purposes. Now, approximately half of the remaining states and Washington, D.C. have also legalized the use of medical marijuana. Currently, the recreational use of marijuana is legal in a number of states, including California, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and Washington D.C., but a handful of other states seem to be headed in the direction of legalizing marijuana for recreational use as well. You can read about the history of voting for marijuana legalization to learn more.
For those looking to break into the marijuana business, it's important to remember that even states that have legalized the recreational use of marijuana still have certain regulations in place. That includes regulations on the transportation of pot. Read on to learn more about how the transportation of marijuana is treated both in state and across state lines.
Before discussing the transportation of marijuana, it's important to understand the difference between the legalization and decriminalization of the drug. Legalizing something means that those who follow the rules related to the product, won't be arrested, ticketed, or convicted for using that product. For example, since marijuana was legalized in Colorado in 2012, people can legally use pot as long as they use it in compliance with the rules surrounding its use (i.e. you must be at least 21 years old to use marijuana).
Decriminalization, on the other hand, occurs when a state amends or repeals its laws to make certain acts no longer subject to prosecution. California, for example, has a decriminalization statute for possession of small amounts of marijuana. In Illinois, for example, if a person is caught with a small amount of pot, he or she will only be guilty of a civil violation and will have to pay a fine, but will not face other criminal consequences such as prosecution or jail time.
The legal implications of transporting marijuana within a particular state will depend on the laws of the individual state. First of all, if marijuana is illegal in a particular state, the transportation of the drug will also be illegal in that state. In states that have made marijuana legal, on the other hand, the laws related to the transportation of marijuana are different depending on if the person is a business or an individual. For example, in Colorado, an individual who transfers one ounce or less of marijuana will not be penalized if he or she is at least 21 years old and doesn't receive money for the transfer.
However, it's important to note that businesses are generally treated differently. States that have legalized marijuana require businesses to be licensed by the state before they can legally transport the drug. For example, in order for a person to transport marijuana within Colorado for his or her business, the person needs to have a license from the State Licensing Authority as well as from the relevant local authorities. In Washington, transporting marijuana requires a person to have a marijuana retailer license and comply with specific transportation requirements. California also allows licensees to transport marijuana, but limits the transportation to within the state.
Since these requirements differ from state to state, it's important to check in with your state's licensing authorities before transporting marijuana within your home state.
While marijuana has been legalized in several states, it's still illegal under federal law. As a result, transporting marijuana across state lines could result in federal criminal prosecution. The United States Drug Enforcement Agency's website provides helpful information explaining the penalties for trafficking marijuana. The penalty depends on the amount of marijuana being transported and whether or not it's a person's first or second offense.
Under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, the federal government could prosecute a person engaged in a marijuana business that is otherwise legal under state law. In 2013, the Obama Administration announced that it wouldn't challenge state laws legalizing marijuana, as long as the states maintained strict rules involving the distribution and sale of marijuana. In fact, the Deputy Attorney General released a memo outlining the enforcement priorities for marijuana, and it didn't include prosecuting legal retailers complying with state laws. However, on January 4, 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memo on marijuana enforcement in which he rescinded previous guidance documents regarding marijuana prosecutions, and directed U.S. attorneys to enforce the laws enacted by Congress.
Those currently involved in the marijuana industry, and those interested in joining it, should take note of the federal government's enforcement priorities in order to help their odds in avoiding federal prosecution.
Marijuana laws can be tricky to navigate, especially since many state laws are in conflict with federal laws. If you have questions or concerns about transporting legal marijuana, or marijuana laws in general, it might be a good idea to contact a cannabis business attorney with experience in the medical and/or recreational cannabis market.