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Angiulo: Federal 1st Circuit Court of Appeals Says Growing Weed Still a Crime

Monday, September 14, 2015


With all the talk about marijuana dispensaries and ballot questions for recreational marijuana in Massachusetts, we tend to lose sight of a nagging issue: growing pot is still a federal crime.  Certainly, there are advocates who will accurately claim that there is a lot of tax money and regulatory fees that the state and federal governments could be collecting.  There are others who look at the high social costs of the war on drugs as outweighing the impact on the rates of use or trafficking.  Despite these arguments in favor of legalization, the fact remains that there is usually significant prison time associated with growing large amounts of weed.

In the August 19, 2015 case of the United States v. Paul Ford three justices of the First Circuit Court of Appeals issue a sharp reminder that marijuana production is a federal crime.  In that case, a gentleman from Maine pled guilty to being involved in the production of over 100 kilograms of marijuana. This mattered because under applicable law that is definitely still a crime.

As a result of the sentencing guidelines in the Federal Court, the defendant received nearly 4 years in prison. The length of the prison term was defined, in part, by the amount of marijuana associated with this individual.

In the federal system, the amount of drugs may be defined, for example, any substances seized during the execution of a search warrant. Sometimes the amount of drugs can also be defined by the weight that can be reasonably attributed to a defendant.  In the Ford case, the court focused on how this defendant was part of a conspiracy with his family members stretching between approximately 2007 and 2011. Using those dates, and the defendant's own statements of five kilogram harvests, approximately 12 pounds, every nine weeks the Appeals Court found the amount of 101 kilograms attributable to the defendant was appropriate. Since the calculated weight was justifiable, the sentence was also permitted to remain in place.

Some readers may be left with the difficult question of how to resolve the federal laws against growing marijuana with the state laws all over the country to the contrary.  While the Ford case cannot provide that solution, it does answer another question in the affirmative.  Yes, growing marijuana is still a federal crime.

Leonardo Angiulo is an Attorney with the firm of Glickman, Sugarman, Kneeland & Gribouski in Worcester handling legal matters across the Commonwealth. He can be reached by email at [email protected] 


Related Slideshow: 10 Things You Need to Know About Marijuana Dispensaries in MA

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The first marijuana dispensary didn't open in Massachusetts until 3 years after voters approved the use of the therapeutic drug.

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June 29, 2015 was the first day that companies could apply to open dispensaries and over 50 applications were submitted.

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The state has awarded 15 out of the allotted 35 applicants with the privilege of growing and selling medical marijuana.

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So far, only six have been given permission to open their doors.

- In Good Health in Brockton they plan to open later in the summer 

- Alternative Therapies Group which was the first to open on June 24

- Compassionate Care in Ayer plan to open later in the summer

- New England Treatment Access (2) which will have its cultivation site in Franklin and dispensaries planned for Brookline and Northampton they plan to open in the fall

- Patriot Care in Lowell

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In Good Health’s president says that their dispensary will open for business in weeks following on the heels of ATG..

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Governor Baker wanted to revamp the medical marijuana licensing process and treat it like any other health care facility.

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Previously, the state set deadlines for applications, then analyzed the entiregroup simultaneously. Now, the process will allow dispensaries to apply for licenses on a rolling basis, and each one will be scored individually.

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The law permits only 35 dispensaries in the state for the first year.

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As of January, 2016, there are 19,279 registered and certified patients.

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Currently, there are no registered marijuana dispensaries in Worcester. 


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