Marijuana is just one of the drugs regulated by the federal government through an act known as the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). The CSA does not recognize any difference between recreational marijuana usage and medical use. In fact, the CSA has placed marijuana at the top of the classification list. The classification list is broken down into schedules, with Schedule I being those substances that are highly addictive. Additionally, the federal classification defines a Schedule I drug, such as marijuana, as having no medical value.
The classification system puts each drug and controlled substance in a list known as a schedule. The classification given to each substance is based upon its medicinal value and its potential for both dependence and abuse. The substances classified as Schedule I drugs are at the top of the list and considered most dangerous. They are considered drugs that not only have a very high potential for abuse, but ones that also carry the highest probabilities for severe physical or psychological dependence with the lowest medical return investment. Some of the substances currently classified as Schedule I substances include LSD, heroin, ‘Ecstasy’, and Quaaludes. The definition of this classification by the CSA indicates that any substance on this list has no currently accepted medical use.
Marijuana is also on this list. Marijuana is listed under federal classification methods as a substance that has no medical value. Therefore, regardless of any current or pending state legislation, marijuana is still illegal under federal law. Doctors may not legally prescribe marijuana to their patients under federal law. The most doctors may do, under their First Amendment rights, is recommend the use of cannabis to a patient.
The CSA has classified marijuana but it is up to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to carry out any law enforcement. Federal laws apply throughout the United States, not just on federal property. This means that even in states that have passed medical marijuana laws, federal law still overrules. Federally, there are sentencing guidelines and mandatory sentencing laws. The sentencing guidelines are enacted by the United States Sentencing Commission. The mandatory sentencing laws are enacted by Congress. The Sentencing Commission came into creation in 1987 to alleviate disproportionate differences in punishments.
The guidelines for federal sentencing in marijuana convictions depend on both the history of previous convictions and the amount of cannabis involved in the current conviction. While a marijuana conviction does not require jail time under these guidelines, it is an eligible option. Additionally, if the person is convicted and sent to jail, at least 85 percent of the time must be served. While probation is an option for lower-level offences, if the amount of marijuana is over 1 kg the sentence could be six to twelve months of incarceration. Higher amounts, those over 2.5 kg, carry a mandatory minimum of six months in jail with a sentence of three years a possibility. While a 2005 court decision changed these guidelines from being mandatory to only being advisory, many judges continue to use them.
Although those guidelines are no longer mandatory, there are still minimum sentencing mandates in effect. When the amounts are larger, cultivating more than 100 plants or having more than 100 kg, the mandatory minimum sentences are also larger. In the previous scenario, there is a five-year minimum sentencing requirement which escalates to 10 years if the person has a prior felony drug conviction. Larger amounts carry longer sentences, ending with a possible life sentence.
So, while states may legalize marijuana, it not only remains illegal from a federal standpoint, but it is also classified as a Schedule I substance. This current federal classification means that in the eyes of the DEA, marijuana has no medical benefit or value. In 2005 the United States Supreme Court found that the federal government does, in fact, have the authority to prohibit cannabis for any purpose. Therefore, it is possible to be prosecuted by federal officials even if the defendant is using the marijuana for medicinal purposes and resides in one of the states that legalized the usage.
By Dee Mueller