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What Colorado residents should know about federal marijuana laws

After years of enjoying liberal policies toward recreational and medical marijuana use in Colorado, it's hard to remember that possession of marijuana remains illegal under U.S. federal law. In fact, federal drug laws classify marijuana as a Schedule I drug. This means that the federal government views pot to be just as dangerous and addictive as heroin, and punishes those convicted of possessing and trafficking it just as severely.

Colorado law will not protect you from being convicted of a federal marijuana crime

Colorado residents also need to remember that even though this substance is legal under state law, everyone who possesses pot in Colorado is violating federal drug laws. Although Colorado residents should be fine while they stay within state lines, they should not ever venture onto any piece of federal property while possessing pot -- this includes federal parks and other federal lands.

Furthermore, it should go without saying that one should never travel across state lines while in possession of pot. These actions would be considered federal criminal offenses and could land you in serious trouble with federal law enforcement agents. In a situation like this, Colorado state law will not be able to protect you.

Federal punishments for marijuana violations are steep

Criminal penalties under federal law associated with a marijuana-related conviction could target anyone from a grower, to a distributor, to someone who simply possesses the substance for personal reasons. Criminal punishments could include up to a year in prison and fines of $1,000 for the typical, low-level marijuana offense. However, for people convicted of partaking in marijuana businesses, they could face prison sentences of up to five years, in addition to fines of up to $250,000 or even $1 million.

Medical marijuana currently benefits from a federal enforcement moratorium

For now, people involved in medical marijuana may benefit from a moratorium on federal enforcement that has been in place since 2014 related to medical pot. Congressional budget amendments prohibit the Department of Justice from expending resources to stop medical marijuana from being allowed in states where it is legal. That being said, the future of this moratorium is uncertain. At any time, Congress could choose to reverse this policy.

Learning more about federal drug policy will help every Colorado resident avoid missteps that could inadvertently get them in trouble with the federal criminal court system for a federal law marijuana violation.

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