“Decriminalized” but still a crime
These laws contrast to those of other states that have a more “true” system of marijuana decriminalization. If you have half an ounce or less of marijuana in North Carolina, you won’t go to prison but will still have a misdemeanor on your criminal record unless you can get it expunged. A misdemeanor conviction can also count against you as a predicate offense if you are ever convicted of another crime with regards to calculating your prior record level to increase sentencing.
The legal status of marijuana in this country is further uniquely confused from the beginning by the fact that the federal government still classifies it as a Schedule I drug, the most severe classification (by comparison, North Carolina classifies marijuana as a Schedule VI substance, the least severe classification). The federal government can enforce its laws against someone no matter what state they are in, because state laws are not supposed to conflict with federal law.
The first came from Deputy Attorney General David Ogden and declared that in states where it was legal, prosecuting personal medical marijuana use was a low priority for federal enforcement agencies even though it was and is illegal under federal law.
However, the federal government still has enormous latitude to pick and choose what marijuana cases they want to prosecute. The federal government is going to have to decide in the years to come how it is going to address this conflict between federal law and the laws of many states.
What is a “small amount” of marijuana?
This means that the Feds can technically prosecute a person for any marijuana possession, use, or cultivation even if the laws of that state do not consider possession in that amount a crime. However, this is relatively rare and the federal government mostly focuses on large-scale marijuana operations, especially those that cross state lines. Two separate Deputy Attorneys General have released memos addressing federal prioritization of marijuana prosecution since 2009:
The second memo, in 2011, came from Deputy Attorney General James Cole and instructed federal enforcement agencies to increase the priority placed on prosecuting growers and dispensaries.
Rapidly changing marijuana laws in this country have left many confused about the legal impact possession of a small amount of marijuana will have on their lives. The word “decriminalization” is often thrown around to describe many of these changes, although the impact this can have on a person’s life still varies widely amongst states.
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