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Reconciling State Medical Marijuana Laws with Federal Laws


Created on April 20, 2017



In 1996, California voters passed the Compassionate Use Act, making it the first state in the union to allow for the medical use of marijuana.

As of January 2017, twenty-eight (28) states, plus Washington, D.C. and Guam, have legalized medical marijuana. Recreational marijuana use is legal in eight states: California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Colorado, Washington D.C., Nevada and Massachusetts.

Unfortunately, under Federal Law, marijuana is still considered a Schedule I Substance under the Controlled Substances Act, with no accepted medical use and a strong potential for dependency, thus making its sale and possession punishable as harshly as narcotics such as cocaine and heroin.

Rochelle S. Berliner, a New York City-based criminal defense and civil rights attorney, discusses the conflict of laws between the federal and state governments surrounding medical marijuana, the associated federalism issues, the collateral consequences of a marijuana conviction, and the legal implications for people involved or looking to get involved in medical marijuana businesses.  

Learning Objectives: 

  1. Understand Federal Marijuana laws and current federal enforcement priorities under the Controlled Substances Act
  2. Recognize additional state criminal and medical marijuana legislation 
  3. Explore the federalism issues implicated by the conflict between federal and state laws on the issue of legalization of medical marijuana
  4. Identify the collateral consequences of a marijuana conviction in connection with, among other things, immigration, professional licensing, education and housing 
  5. Address how to defend a client from a marijuana charge
  6. Gain insight on essential business considerations facing medical marijuana cultivators and dispensaries, as well the effect of federal law on starting and operating those businesses
  7. Grasp the banking and financing difficulties facing marijuana businesses 

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