Florida Attorney General: Medical Marijuana is Illegal Under Federal Law, With or Without Amendment

On Thursday, October 24th, 2013 in an initial brief to the Florida Supreme Court, Pam Bondi said, “Whether the Amendment passes or not, the medical use of marijuana is a federal criminal offense.”   Almost half the nation has reefer madness these days, with 20 states having passed laws allowing medical marijuana, or outright decriminalizing it. But the office of Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi suggests making it crystal clear to voters that even if a proposed constitutional amendment legalizing cannabis for medicinal purposes makes it to the November ballot and passes, users will still be breaking the law — United States law, that is. “The summary suggests that medical marijuana is permissible under federal law,” Bondi’s office said in an initial brief filed Oct. 24, challenging the proposal in Florida Supreme Court. “In reality, whether the Amendment passes or not, the medical use of marijuana is a federal criminal offense.” With so many states allowing marijuana — medical or otherwise — to be consumed by the public, this claim seems to often be overlooked, so we figured it was time to clear the air. Use and abuse Whether the proposed amendment even makes it is dependent on advocates collecting 700,000 confirmed signatures by Feb. 1. Even if the petition is approved, the Florida Supreme Court has until April 1, 2014, to rule on the attorney general’s challenge. If voters pass the law, it would allow registered patients with cancer, glaucoma, AIDS, hepatitis C, ALS, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis or other conditions approved by a doctor to obtain marijuana for medicinal purposes. Bondi’s brief also says the law would “would make Florida one of the most lenient medical-marijuana states, allowing use for limitless ‘other conditions’ specified by any physician,” a claim we rated Mostly True. All marijuana legislation is written to apply only to state laws. Under the federal Controlled Substances Act of 1970, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug, which is defined as having a high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical use. Proponents of decriminalizing marijuana disagree with that definition. Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the pro-legislation Marijuana Policy Project, said there are obvious, widely used medical applications (such as pain relief and appetite stimulation). He said no other drug, from Lipitor to Oxycodone, must specify its exact use like medical marijuana laws do. But even with that in mind, no matter how many states pass marijuana laws, even advocates like Riffle freely admit that the use, possession, manufacturing and distribution of the drug remains a federal no-no. The Controlled Substances Act imposes strict penalties on marijuana users, growers and sellers. A first misdemeanor offense for possession in any amount can result in a $1,000 fine and a year in prison, climbing for subsequent offenses to as much as $5,000 and three years. Selling cannabis is considered a felony. Punishments range from a $250,000 fine and 5 years in prison to as much as $10 million and up to life for selling 1,000 kilograms or more. Penalties double if the sale is to a minor or within 1,000 feet of a school, playground or public housing. Cultivating cannabis plants carries similar penalties, contingent on the volume. Feds let states take the lead Even with federal law on the books prohibiting marijuana, there are reasons users and distributors aren’t constantly being busted by the Drug Enforcement Agency. There is a continuing debate over state rights versus federal control, and decriminalizing marijuana is a flashpoint. “Just because federal law bans something doesn’t mean states have to,” George Mason University law professor...

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