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Why you can't misjudge the federal government's position on marijuana

Thanks to a significant amount of news coverage, most people are now well aware that even though many states -- Illinois included -- have adopted what could best be described as a progressive approach to marijuana, it nevertheless remains illegal under federal law.

While this is encouraging to see, there are other popular myths relating to marijuana that continue to persist, perhaps leading individuals to gravely underestimate the potential consequences of federal drug crimes. 

For instance, many people might be laboring under the misapprehension that the penalties for marijuana-related federal drug crimes are somehow less than those for substances like cocaine or methamphetamine owing to it being a natural substance or not a "hard drug."

The simple fact, however, is that the marijuana is classified as a schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act, meaning it is viewed as having no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Indeed, both cocaine and methamphetamine are classified as schedule II substances, meaning marijuana is technically viewed as more dangerous in the eyes of federal officials.

To illustrate further, consider the federal law prohibiting individuals to "manufacture, distribute, or dispense, or possess with intent to manufacture, distribute, or dispense, a controlled substance."

This particular drug trafficking statute -- along with several others -- is subject to a rather draconian mandatory minimum sentencing structure based on the type of drug and the amount involved, such that the more dangerous a drug is and the more of it that was present at arrest, the longer the defendant could be sent to federal prison.

Indeed, the penalties for marijuana-related trafficking break down as follows:

First offense

  • Less than 50kg/1-49 plants: up to 5 years in prison
  • 50kg-99kg/50-99 plants: up to 20 years in prison
  • 100kg-999kg/100-999 plants: from 5 to 40 years in prison
  • 1000kg-plus/1000-plus plants: 10 years to life in prison

Second offense

  • Less than 50kg/1-49 plants: up to 10 years in prison
  • 50kg-99kg/50-99 plants: up to 30 years in prison
  • 100kg-999kg/100-999 plants: 10 years to life in prison
  • 1000kg-plus/1000-plus plants: 20 years to life in prison

Third offense

  • 1000kg-plus/1000-plus plants: life in prison

As you can see by the foregoing, federal law makes no special dispensation for marijuana, treating it the same -- or perhaps even more harshly -- than other controlled substances. As such, anyone facing federal drug charges relating to the cultivation and/or distribution of marijuana must strongly consider speaking with a skilled legal professional, as the stakes are simply too high.

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Darryl A. Goldberg
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Chicago, IL 60602

Phone: 773-793-3196
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