Michael A. Gottlieb, P.A. - Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Lawyer

How does federal law affect the legalization of marijuana?

Florida legalized medical marijuana in 2016, but has only recently started issuing ID cards allowing residents to purchase medical marijuana. A ban on smokable marijuana remains in effect.

Two separate groups, Regulate Florida and Floridians for Freedom, are working to legalize the drug for all Floridians. The groups approach legalization from two slightly different angles. Regulate Florida wants marijuana to be treated like alcohol, so it would be legal for those over 21 to use, grow and sell marijuana. Floridians for Freedom is pushing for roughly the same thing—use, cultivation and possession for those over 21—but it also wants legalization to become a part of the Florida Constitution. The group argues this could create stronger protections that may prevent federal interference.

Federal interference is part of the problem for many states that have legalized marijuana. Under federal law, marijuana is still an illegal substance.

Federal policy changes

Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently rescinded some of the Obama era freedoms relating to marijuana. According to Vox, Sessions changed policy to allow federal prosecutors to pursue prosecution against legal marijuana businesses to thwart what he refers to as the drug crisis. That could lead to federal agents raiding legal marijuana businesses.

Bank restrictions and income tax issues

Even without these changes in federal policy, businesses selling marijuana face federal restrictions. Many must operate as cash-only businesses because banks do not want to handle money that breaks federal law. For the businesses, this means owners often cannot open bank accounts to deposit money from sales. For customers, this often means you cannot use credit cards to pay for purchases. Federal regulations also limit marijuana businesses’ ability to file for certain deductions on income taxes, so income tax rates can soar as high as 90 percent.

Transporting marijuana and use on federal property

For states where marijuana is legal, the transportation of marijuana from a legal state to other states is prohibited. Federal law also prevents the use of marijuana on federal land, which includes national parks, ski slopes and military bases.

Adding an amendment that legalizes marijuana to the Florida Constitution could possibly prevent some of these federal issues. However, if Attorney General Sessions remains in office, he may continue to push for increased interference in the states’ regulation of marijuana. That would mean more complications for residents and legal marijuana businesses.

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