Colorado and Washington voters decided to legalize the possession of marijuana for personal consumption in their state when they went to the polls yesterday. Anyone 21 years old or older is no longer breaking state drug laws if they possess 28.5 grams (1 ounce) of marijuana or less.
Both states allow for legal distribution of the once-illegal drug. Shops can be licensed similar to liquor stores and will have to pay taxes on marijuana sales. Colorado will allow individuals to grow their own pot, subject to certain limits on quantity; Washington still does not allow cultivation of marijuana.
What’s the catch? Possession of marijuana is still a federal drug crime. Recently, re-elected President Obama has called for a crackdown on pot, aimed at rooting out grow houses whose produce exceed what is needed to supply medical marijuana recipients in states like California.
When charged as a federal drug offense, possession of marijuana is considered the illegal possession of a schedule I controlled substance. All federal marijuana drug offenses can potentially mean a prison sentence after conviction. If sentenced to prison time for a federal marijuana charge, you should expect to serve at least 85 percent of the sentence; early release from federal prisons is much different than early release from state prisons.
The point is twofold:
1- Marijuana is still illegal in North Carolina, at both the state and federal level
2- State laws that make marijuana possession, use or cultivation legal do not trump federal laws that criminalize the same behavior.
If you are facing a drug charge, an attorney in your area can help you understand the severity of the accusation and the possible sentence if you are convicted.
Source: Reuters, “Colorado, Washington first states to legalize recreational pot,” November 7, 2012