The National TOP 100 Trial Lawyers
America's Top 100 - Criminal Defense Attorneys
Avvo Reviews
Avvo Ratting 10.0 Top Attorney
Avvo Clients' Choice Award 2018
The University of Texas at Austin School of Law

The Ultimate Guide to Understanding Federal Marijuana Laws

The Law Firm of Andrea M. Kolski

Marijuana laws are a hot topic these days. It’s been a long time coming, but 19 states, plus the District of Columbia, have now fully legalized marijuana for recreational use. With a further 18 allowing for medicinal use and home cultivation. That’s a lot of freedom for smoking weed.

Still, Texas is lags far behind many states on the road to legalization. While Texas may seem like an outlier, they are not alone. There is plenty of confusion surrounding marijuana laws at the state and federal level. Even with the recent changes, many don’t realize that the federal government still considers marijuana illegal. This confusing inconsistency between what states allow and what the Feds decree hasn’t gone unnoticed. In fact, it’s a source of much debate among lawmakers and law enforcement in every community.

Don’t get caught up in the confusion. Read on to better understand the federal marijuana laws and how it may effect your life.

What Actually is Marijuana and What’s the Big Deal?

You might already know that weed comes from a plant – the Cannabis Sativa plant to be exact. It also happens to be the most used drug in the whole of the United States of America. With such widespread use, it’s no wonder that marijuana is a big deal in the US.

The most common method of marijuana use is through smoking or consuming it in edible forms such as gummies, brownies, cookies, or other consumable forms. Users commonly experience mood-altering and other psychoactive effects. It often provides a euphoric high that can be felt across the whole body.

While millions of people across the world use it to chill out and relax, the high is not the only reason for taking it. There is a substantial amount of research that supports marijuanas effectiveness as a medication for pain relief. Studies note it can be especially helpful for inflammation, epileptic fits, or psychosis.

With those medical benefits in mind, users and proponents have urged lawmakers to reconsider removed marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug. Schedule 1 drugs include heroin and cocaine which have far greater effects, and addictive properties, compared to marijuana. Schedule 1 drugs also have a high potential for abuse and little to no medical benefit.

While there is some concern that marijuana can be habit-forming, studies reveal it is far less addictive than the two most widely used legal drugs, tobacco and alcohol. In fact, marijuana proponents point to extensive research which reveal alcohol is much more dangerous, addictive, and destructive than even the heaviest of marijuana use. With this in mind, it’s easy to see why so many states (and countries) have started relaxing their marijuana laws. But, the federal laws are a different story.

A Beginner’s Guide to Federal Marijuana Laws

Marijuana was originally criminalized in the United States in the 1930s with the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. It was the result of years of widespread propaganda tying marijuana use with increased aggression, criminality, and dangerous behavior. Unfortunately, there was little to no actual research to base these claims but coming on the heels of the repeal of prohibition in 1933, many lawmakers felt pressured to protect citizens from the “reefer madness” supposedly endangering their communities. Even after the hysteria around marijuana was long debunked, lawmakers doubled down on criminalizing marijuana users and distributors with harsh penalties under the “War on Drugs” banner.

To this day – despite changes in many state laws – the misinformation around marijuana is everywhere. When the science proved marijuana as less harmful than legal alcohol, opponents shifted their tactics to label marijuana a ‘gateway drug’ to more serious drug use. However, there is little research to suggest this link but opponents continue to claim weed is the stepping stone for the casual drug user to evolve into someone dependent on much more serious drugs such as heroin.

The news for marijuana opponents continues to get worse as more and more data becomes available. Studies show that there is no increase in crime or violent behavior in communities where marijuana has been legalized. Because of this, many police groups and law enforcement representatives support the legalization of marijuana. They conclude that legalization actually makes communities safer and a reduction in the dangers posed to police.

Even though many of the claims around marijuana danger have been debunked, lawmakers and staunch opposition groups want to keep marijuana illegal. So, why is it still illegal? And how can the same thing be legal at state level and illegal at federal level?

Essentially, state laws govern citizens only within that particular state. That’s why something can be legal in one town, but illegal in the next one over if it’s in a different state. Federal laws, however, are the overarching laws of the country and apply to everyone regardless of the state they’re in.

That’s why while marijuana legalization has taken effect in many states, it’s still technically illegal in the United States. So, why isn’t everyone who’s using weed – even in a state where it’s legal – getting arrested at federal level?

The Cole Memorandum, the Presidential Pardon, and the Future of Federal Marijuana Laws

In 2013, the Justice Department issued the Cole Memorandum. This important memo may well be the most important set of guidelines to be released in relation to marijuana laws. In essence, it said it would not interfere with state laws on this matter.

This paved the way for states to begin revising their marijuana laws. Soon after, states like Colorado and Oregon were the first to put marijuana laws on the ballot and the people voted overwhelmingly in favor of legalization. It wasn’t long until other states followed suit. Meanwhile, the Justice Department acknowledged that using marijuana is still illegal at the federal government level, it has taken a stance not to challenge individual states’ legalization laws. This was a major step towards legalization and revisiting the failed “war on drugs” and it’s effect on our communities.

Things took another step forward on October 6th, 2022. On this day, President Joe Biden announced he would be issuing a presidential proclamation to pardon federal convictions for marijuana use. With this announcement, Biden suddenly ushered in a new era for marijuana use and opened the debate even wider in fully legalizing weed.

With all of these changes, it’s fair to ask – what’s next in the marijuana legalization debate? After all, there is still a long way to go, with many states not taking the leap yet (Texas, for example, still has very high rates of prosecution), and people are still being arrested and incarcerated due to possession. What will happen to them?

There are still plenty of unknowns when it comes to marijuana laws. Enforcement and prosecution may vary by county or jurisdiction even within a state. For example, in states where marijuana is still illegal, there are some counties that have declared they will not target or prosecute marijuana offenses. With limited resources, they have decided to focus their attention on other more serious crimes.

Regardless where you stand on the issue or where you may reside, it’s important to ensure you have a good lawyer on your side if you’re facing marijuana possession charges. In states like Texas, there is still a concerted effort to prosecute and convict marijuana users or dealers.

Stay Posted for Federal Marijuana Law

Despite state laws moving ever closer, changes to federal marijuana laws still seem a long way off. That being said, when it comes down to it, the Justice Department has made its stance clear – they will not challenge state laws.

However, along with President Biden’s pardon earlier in the year, and an ever-present push by the general public to legalize, the tide is certainly turning in regards to marijuana laws. But even though something seems sensible and popular, it doesn’t mean you won’t face severe consequences if charged. If you or a loved one are facing charges for marijuana possession, an experienced lawyer can make all the difference. Texas drug defense lawyer Andrea M. Kolski has over 20 years experience defending those who have been accused of drug and marijuana offenses. Her record of success is second to none. If you’re in need of a lawyer to help you out with marijuana laws, get in touch now!

Visit Us

By Appointment Only - Contact Us

The Woodlands Office
8505 Technology Forest Pl #104

The Woodlands, TX 77381

Phone: 832-381-3430

Get in Touch

Free Consultation 832-381-3430

What Our Customers Say

"Andrea is a fantastic attorney versed in many fields. I've retained her services for criminal defense, nondisclosure orders, and family law. She has always provided a...

Steven Street Texas

"Andrea and her staff are definitely one of the greatest of all time. Their professionalism and knowledge of the law and how the system works is unparalleled. I have her...

Dwight Osteen Texas

“Andrea is the most amazing attorney I have ever had in my corner.” — Vincent, client facing 2nd DWI charge, CASE DISMISSED