Even in states that have legalized or decriminalized the use, possession, buying, or selling of marijuana still means that it is a federal crime. Federal law still proscribes that marijuana is a controlled substance, on the same level as cocaine or heroin. One is still able to be charged with a federal crime for activities that are legal according to state law.
Controlled Substances Act
The Controlled Substances Act (CSA) regulates illegal drugs by placing drugs on a schedule according to medicinal value and potential for addiction or abuse. Schedule I controlled substances have a high potential for abuse, have a lack of medicinal value, and cannot be safely prescribed. The CSA places marijuana on the list of Schedule I drugs.
So why aren’t people being arrested and charged with federal crimes in states where marijuana is legal? This comes down to executive branch enforcement. States are not expected to enforce federal law. Prosecutors in local jurisdictions have the discretion to prosecute any crime. This gives prosecutors the choice to decline prosecution of certain criminal activities, including the possession of marijuana.
The executive branch under President Obama deprioritized the need to enforce marijuana crimes. Policymaking can be done by the executive branch by nonenforcement of certain federal laws. States are becoming increasingly more lenient with marijuana laws, many of which have completely legalized recreational use, altogether.
Marijuana laws in New York
However, there are still many states which prohibit the use, possession, buying, or selling of marijuana and it is still a crime under federal law. New York’s drug laws are convoluted. There are many classes for only possessing drugs. Speaking with an attorney experienced in criminal defense and drug possession in the state of New York can help individuals figure out their next steps after being charged with a drug crime.