Federal Cannabis Laws: This Is What You Need To Know

Do you consume marijuana? Whether you smoke it for recreational use or ingest it for medical purposes, it is important you know the federal cannabis l...

As we continue to evolve as a society, it is becoming clear that attitudes towards medical and recreational marijuana are changing. Federal cannabis laws, on the other hand, has yet to catch up with the will of the people as strict prohibition remains in place. As individual states make the decision to legalize, new markets are opening up and waves of economic growth are impacting communities. What once carried a divisive stigma, is now bringing relief to patients and healing wounds once thought beyond the reach of medicine. Despite the overwhelming excitement for the expansion of legalization, federal prohibition looms like a dark cloud over the burgeoning industry leaving many concerned for the future of marijuana.

Federal Cannabis Laws: Times Are Changing

Federal cannabis laws have been in place with various revisions for 80 years or so. They did not come about as the result of widespread marijuana use or any adverse effects. They came about because of politics, plain and simple. It wasn’t until 1996 that the residents of California had enough and moved forward with the nation’s first state authorized medical marijuana program. Despite push back from the federal government and many years of battling the DEA, in the end, the people of California succeeded and legal cannabis became part of the culture. Shortly after California, Colorado started its own medical marijuana system which has largely served as the basis for programs developed in other states who made the decision to legalize.


In all there are 28 states who have sanctioned medical marijuana programs. As of this past election there are also eight states who passed recreational adult use laws. Washington DC also voted to legalize recreational marijuana sales, however, their efforts to establish a system of distribution have been halted by congress, who don’t seem to appreciate the irony of marijuana being sold so close to Capitol Hill. Nut how can states decide to legalize cannabis when federal law prohibits it? At first it took courage and that was about it. The DEA made its will known by raiding lawful cannabis growers and dispensaries, but this mostly came to an end in 2014.

As part of the 2014 annual budget agreement passed by congress, it was deemed that federal funds could no longer be spent enforcing federal law against marijuana retailers and cultivators who were abiding by rules of their state. This effectively ended the war against marijuana for legalized states on a federal level. But have the times changed? We have entered an era of uncertainty with cannabis laws and have received mixed messages from our elected representatives. The new administration has made it clear that it does not support legalization of marijuana at any level and will actively work to enforce federal law. What this means is anyone’s guess, as interfering with growth of medical and recreational marijuana markets may be the straw that broke the camel’s back for the American people. That would translate into an enormous loss of political capital for the new president and his team.


There may be hope, however, as not everyone in government agrees with prohibition. Three new bills have been introduced to congress as part of The Path To Marijuana Reform, put forth by Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon. The bills seek to end the US Tax Code 280E provisions which disallow marijuana businesses from taking advantage of standard tax write offs,. They would also remove all criminal penalties and civil asset forfeitures relating to marijuana businesses, and would take all marijuana compounds off of the federal drug scheduling list. It is hard to say what chances the bills have of making it through congress, as marijuana reform has divided opinions on both sides of the aisle.

Federal cannabis laws are about to change. Regardless of what congress might do in the short term, the demand for medical and recreational marijuana is here to stay. It is only a matter of time before our federal laws reflect the will of the people and we can finally put the legalization debate behind us.

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