Federal Marijuana Laws

Federal Laws governing Marihuana (when there are no guns involved).

Although growing marijuana in New York is illegal under state law, and although there are prohibitions on the manufacture of Schedule I drugs (including cultivating marijuana) under New York’s Public Health laws, there isn’t a New York State law that specifically says, “You shall be punished for growing more than 5 marihuana plants.” When people ask about the number of plants that can get them into trouble, we remind them that depending on a plant’s weight, a single flowering female can get them into plenty of trouble at the state level. However, if we are talking about a marijuana farm, we need to look at federal law because the FBI will have been attracted by the sheer scale of the grow operation.

Notably, neither state nor federal law addresses the potency of cannabis plants. THC concentrations can vary dramatically in different varieties of cannabis, but it is all equally illegal. There are many strains of cannabis, from hemp (which couldn’t get you high if you smoked a salad bowl of it), to marijuana strains that are potent in various cannabinoids which show signs of medical usefulness but lack large amounts of THC (the cannabinoid that gives you a “high” effect), to the THC-concentrated marijuana that is cultivated specifically to produce a “high.” Lawmakers’ focus on the plant rather than the drug leads one to question the policy rationale for outlawing a plant without knowing exactly what the plant is.

Federal law outlaws marijuana by both weight and by plant numbers. Title 21 of the United States Code, Chapter 13, Sub. II, § 960 declares it an unlawful act to import or export marijuana; possess marijuana on a vessel, aircraft, or vehicle; manufacture, possess, distribute or intend to distribute marijuana. (This section of the U.S. Code also applies to heroin, cocaine, PCP, LSD, fentanyl, and methamphetamine; for now we are sticking to pot.)

Less than 50 Marijuana Plants:

If a person does any of those illegal things listed above (importing, possessing, distributing, etc.) with:

  • a) less than 50 kilograms marijuana or up to 50 marijuana plants regardless of weight; or
  • b) less than 10 kilos of hashish; or
  • c) less than 1 kilo of hash oil; then
they are subject to a sentence of up to 5 years in federal prison. There is a fine authorized up to $1,000,000 for businesses - $250,000 for individuals. There must also be at least 2 years of post-release supervision for first-time offenders. Second offenders get up to 10 years in federal prison plus 4 years of supervised release.

When there is less than 50 kilos of marijuana involved, federal law enforcement in our area tends to leave marijuana cases to state police and prosecutors. One exception would be adding a gun into the mix, and that issue is discussed below.

Between 50 and 99 Marijuana Plants:

If a person partakes in any of those illegal activities listed above with between 50 and 99 kilograms of a substance containing a detectable amount of marijuana or between 50 and 99 plants regardless of weight, they are subject to a sentence in federal prison of up to 20 years. If somebody uses the marijuana and suffers serious injury or dies, the sentence goes up to 20 – life. There is a fine authorized up to $5,000,000 for businesses - $1,000,000 for individuals. There must also be at least 3 years of post-release supervision for first-time offenders. No probation, suspended sentence, or parole is allowed if somebody dies or is seriously hurt from using the marijuana. Second offenders get up to 30 years in federal prison plus 6 years of supervised release.

100 or more Marijuana Plants:

If a person engages in any of the illegal activities listed above with 100 kilograms of a substance containing a detectable amount of marijuana or 100+ plants regardless of weight, they are subject to a sentence in federal prison of 5 – 40 years. If somebody uses the marijuana and suffers serious injury or dies, the sentence goes up to 20 – life. There is a fine authorized up to $25,000,000 for businesses - $5,000,000 for individuals. There must also be at least 4 years of post-release supervision for first-time offenders. No suspended sentence of probation in lieu of jail is allowed. No early parole is allowed. Second offenders get 10 – life plus eight years of supervised release.

1,000 or more Marijuana Plants:

If a person does any of those illegal things listed above with 1,000 kilograms of a substance containing a detectable amount of marijuana or more than 1,000 plants regardless of weight, they are subject to a sentence in federal prison of 10 – life. If somebody uses the marijuana and suffers serious injury or dies, the sentence goes up to 20 – life. There is a fine authorized up to $50,000,000 for businesses - $10,000,000 for individuals. There must also be at least 5 years of post-release supervision for first-time offenders. No suspended sentence of probation in lieu of jail is allowed. No early parole is allowed. Second offenders get 20 – life plus 10 years of supervised release.

When drug dealers carry guns, they expose themselves to decades of federal prison time.

Federal laws surrounding the possession and sale of marijuana are unarguably harsh, but when you add a gun to the equation the penalties become a little shocking. (See 18 U.S.C. § 924(c).)

If charged and sentenced under federal law, a street-level pot dealer with a gun in his belt who makes three or four deals over the course of a week could go to federal prison for the rest of his life. That’s right – for the rest of his life.

Once you read our page on how the involvement of guns dramatically increases the penalties for drug trafficking, you will have no doubt that finding and hiring the right lawyer is an absolute necessity. If you are charged in the United States District Court for the Western District of New York with violating any drug laws – marijuana or otherwise, call Jeannie D. Michalski today for a free criminal consultation. Our number is (585) 351-2500. We can help.