Medical Marijuana Cancer Doctors

This September 2015 photo shows marijuana plants a few weeks away from harvest in a medical marijuana cultivation center in Albion, Illinois. On Nov. 6, Missouri joined 31 other states in legalizing medical marijuana, but the substance still remains prohibited under federal law.

The recently approved medical marijuana law has the potential to cause confusion for those seeking to use the resource, as well as for criminal defense lawyers who will have to juggle state and federal laws.

Lauren Bower, an attorney at Kranitz, Sadoun, & Carpenter, said that while Missouri may have given the go-ahead for certain ailments to be treated with the cannabinoid, under the federal law, marijuana and marijuana extract are both still considered Schedule I controlled substances under the Controlled Substances Act alongside drugs like heroin and fentanyl.

“It’s really important to keep in mind that federal law still classifies medical marijuana as a controlled substance, a Schedule I controlled substance, so it does remain illegal under federal law even in states that have legalized it,” Bower said. “However, in 2014, Congress passed an amendment that prohibits the Department of Justice from funding the prosecution of individuals who do violate these federal drug laws but are in compliance with the state law.”

In layman’s terms, while the drug remains illegal in the eyes of the federal government, as long as someone is in compliance with the state law, the likelihood of being prosecuted for using medical marijuana is slim.

Along with the issue of federal law, driving under the influence of this new medication is something that still will need to be determined by the state, according to Bower.

“When it comes to medical marijuana, it will be interesting to see how the law will look at how long the medical marijuana is staying in your system and how long after using the medication can you actually legally drive,” Bower said, pointing to the likelihood that Missouri will be looking to other states for guidance in the matter.

Another concern is whether someone using a medication prescribed to them can be punished by an employer who has guidelines prohibiting the substance.

“In regard to employment law, it will depend upon your employer, so I would recommend everyone who is prescribed medical marijuana review carefully their employment handbook to see what their terms of employment are,” Bower said. “Their employer technically still can punish them for using marijuana.”

Issues like operating heavy machinery could affect how each employer treats the matter.

“There are certainly some issues that we are going to need to be up to date on as far as criminal defense and business law issues relating to these dispensaries that will have to become licensed in order to grow marijuana and sell marijuana.”

Jessika Eidson can be reached