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Can a person end up in federal court over marijuana?

Perhaps one of the most frequently asked questions about marijuana use in Washington - and in other states that have legalized recreational use of marijuana - concerns the impact of federal law on users. The use of marijuana is generally against federal law, even though Washington and a few other states have taken steps to legalize marijuana use. Is the federal government still cracking-down on those who use marijuana in states like ours? Are the feds even putting people in prison over federal anti-marijuana laws?

Certainly, facing federal drug charges is a frightening prospect for those who may use marijuana in Washington. Those who end up in federal court on charges related to marijuana typically face very serious charges such as drug trafficking rather than simple drug possession. In fact, over 99 percent of federal prisoners incarcerated on drug crimes were in prison for drug trafficking.

Federal prisoners make up about 13 percent of the total prison population. According to data from 2009, about half of these inmates had a drug offense as their most serious charge. The long-term consequences of drug trafficking can include time spent in federal prison, as well as steep fines and a criminal record. Likewise, state drug charges can also include marijuana violations, even in Washington, as marijuana is tightly regulated.

Still, federal charges can encompass a wide array of crimes, from forgery to exploiting children. People accused of federal crimes often need a very strong defense to counter the thorough and often aggressive prosecution in federal cases.

Source: whitehouse.gov, "Answers to frequently asked questions about marijuana," accessed Oct. 24, 2016

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