President Takes Steps Toward Decriminalizing Marijuana – Will States Follow?

President Biden recently took steps toward not only easing the effects of marijuana-related convictions but also potentially decriminalizing possession of marijuana when he announced pardons for anyone convicted of violating federal marijuana possession laws and a review of current federal drug policies classifying marijuana as a Schedule I dangerous controlled substance.

Critics of the administration immediately responded by labeling the shift in policy as a political move. Still, a survey conducted in 2021 revealed that 68% of adults in this country favor the legalization of marijuana for both medical and recreational use. However, the newly announced pardons will not have a widespread impact, as estimates show that only about 6,500 people convicted of drug possession under federal laws will benefit.

Nevertheless, suppose state governors head the president’s call to follow the federal lead. In that case, the number of people affected, including those now serving time in state prisons and local jails, will be substantial.

Is marijuana possession illegal?

If you ask whether possession of marijuana is legal, the only answer, at least at the moment, is “it depends.” It depends on where you happen to be at the time and how you are using the drug. Consequently, the status of state and federal marijuana law intersection is a confusing, convoluted work in progress.

Even in states that allow medicinal or recreational use, federal law still makes the producing, selling, and possessing marijuana a criminal offense. Now, that all may slowly change in light of the president’s call for reconsidering the drug’s status as a dangerous controlled substance. However, any conversion of longstanding laws on a national level will likely be gradual and measured.

On the state side, marijuana remains illegal in any form for any purpose in seven states as of October 2022:

·      Idaho

·      Illinois

·      Kansas

·      Nebraska

·      North Carolina

·      South Carolina

·      Wyoming

All other states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws making the use of marijuana legal to at least some extent. For example, Oklahoma authorized the medical use of marijuana in 2018, but recreational use remains illegal (at least for the moment).

Oklahoma’s efforts to let voters decide whether to legalize the recreational use of marijuana recently got a “good news-bad news” ruling from the state supreme. In a unanimous decision, the court rejected legal challenges to the voter initiative, which was the good news. The bad news resulted from the court’s decision that insufficient time remained for the issue to appear on the November 2022 ballot. Instead, the governor will determine when to allow the public to vote on the matter.

How does a marijuana conviction affect you?

In reviewing President Biden’s recent announcement, it’s imperative we take a closer look at the impact of a criminal conviction.

The extent to which a drug-related conviction affects your life depends on whether it’s a felony or a misdemeanor. Felony conviction consequences can range far and wide. Obviously, there is the potential for incarceration. A felony conviction is punishable by imprisonment for more than one year, while the maximum term of confinement for a misdemeanor conviction is one year. Still, completing your sentence does not release you from the stigma and consequences attached to a criminal record.

Laws differ from state to state as to the effects of a felony conviction. Some jurisdictions restrict a person’s right to vote, sit on a jury, hold public office, and own or possess a firearm.

Although a misdemeanor conviction may not have the same ramifications for your rights, it can affect your ability to get a job, if nothing else. Some employers will not hire a person with a criminal record, whether voluntarily disclosed or discovered through a pre-employment background search. Moreover, there is an argument for restriction of firearm possession on the state or federal level in some cases depending on the crime of conviction.

Contact a criminal defense lawyer

If you were convicted of marijuana possession or other drug-related criminal offenses, or if you have charges pending and would like to keep from being a convict, a consultation with a criminal defense attorney can go a long way toward protecting and preserving your future. Both an aggressive defense against pending charges or expungement of a prior conviction are two options that could avoid the life-long consequences of a criminal record. If you have questions, give us a call.

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