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What raises a marijuana charge to a federal crime?

On Behalf of | Jan 15, 2024 | Criminal defense |

The landscape of marijuana laws in the United States is diverse. Each state sets its own regulations. While some states embraced legalization or decriminalization, others maintain strict penalties for marijuana-related offenses. Virginia recently took a step towards leniency by reducing simple possession charges to a civil violation with a $25 fine. Despite this shift, Virginians remain exposed to legal risks because circumstances can elevate a state marijuana charge to a federal crime.

Marijuana’s federal classification

Understanding marijuana’s federal classification is crucial to identifying scenarios that may trigger federal charges. Federally, marijuana retains its Schedule I status. This means that, under federal law, it has no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.

Federal marijuana penalties

According to Chapter 21 of the United States Code, Section 844, initial offenses of marijuana possession carry a maximum prison term of 1 year and a minimum fine of $1,000. Subsequent offenses escalate penalties, potentially reaching 15 days to 2 years in prison and a $2,500 fine for a second offense.

A third or subsequent offense could result in 90 days to 3 years in prison and a $5,000 fine. Additionally, federal law enforces civil penalties, such as the denial of federal benefits, student loans or public housing for marijuana possession.

Federal jurisdiction triggers

Determining when a Virginia marijuana charge becomes a federal crime hinges on various factors. These include quantity, location, aggravating circumstances and prosecutorial discretion. For example, federal prosecutors may prioritize cases involving large marijuana quantities, interstate or international trafficking and ties to organized crime.

Another federal jurisdiction trigger is offenses committed on federal property or affecting federal interests, such as national parks, military bases, etc. Smuggling marijuana across state lines or borders can also bring the case under federal jurisdiction. Finally, federal law takes precedence over state law in drug-related matters, providing federal authorities the authority to enforce their statutes irrespective of state regulations.

If I was arrested locally, I do not have to worry about the feds, right?

Wrong. Although many low-level marijuana offenses are handled by state authorities, it is crucial to recognize the potential for federal intervention. Federal prosecutors often prioritize serious drug crimes that pose threats to public safety or national security. Nonetheless, the dynamic nature of federal policies implies a potential shift in priorities and an increased risk of federal prosecution.