Anyone conducting business in cannabis surely knows that under Federal law (Controlled Substances Act 21 U.S.C. 801) marijuana is designated as a Schedule I controlled substance due to the historical belief that it has a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use in treatment, and lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision. So the risk is apparent that at any time Federal authorities could come and shut you down especially if you are growing cannabis on Federal lands.
Death Valley Raid
On April 30, 2021 the National Park Service issued a press release that Federal park rangers recently discovered a large, illegal marijuana grow site in Death Valley National Park. The site of approximately 40 acres was spotted in Jail Canyon, a rarely-visited canyon on the western side of the Panamint Mountains. Jail Canyon is temporarily closed for public safety reasons until park rangers can fully evaluate the area.
Carbofuran and other dangerous chemicals have been found previously at marijuana grow sites in the park. In the past, growers have threatened hikers who have stumbled upon their illegal operations.
“We are deeply saddened and concerned with the damage that these illegal activities cause,” said Barbara Durham, Traditional Historic Preservation Officer for the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe. “The natural and cultural resources in these areas are irreplaceable and invaluable, damaging them for profit shows incredible disrespect to our homeland.”
“Preserving natural and cultural resources while providing an opportunity for the public to enjoy amazing places is at the core of our mission,” said Rob Wissinger, Chief Ranger at Death Valley National Park. “Seeing irreparable damage to a fragile ecosystem rich with rare natural and cultural resources is devastating.”
Park authorities state that marijuana grow sites significantly damage and destroy the park’s natural and cultural resources by introducing pesticides, land clearing, poaching and waterway modifications. Although the climate of Death Valley may appear inhospitable to marijuana cultivation, over the past decade, hundreds of acres of marijuana have been illegally cultivated in the park.
The National Park Service states that visitors to Death Valley’s most well-traveled areas are not at risk of finding a marijuana grow site; however, hikers in remote areas near water sources should remain alert, turn around and leave if they notice signs of suspicious activity, such as excessive amounts of trash, hillside terracing, or plastic irrigation tubing. Once safe, they should notify rangers at a visitor center or call the National Park Service tip line at 888-653-0009.
The Anti-Federal U.S. Climate
The Federal Controlled Substances Act (“CSA”) 21 U.S.C. § 812 classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 substance with a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use in treatment, and lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision. Although you can still face federal criminal charges for using, growing, or selling weed in a manner that is completely lawful under California law, the federal authorities in the past have pulled back from targeting individuals and businesses engaged in medical marijuana activities. This pull back came from Department of Justice (“DOJ”) Safe Harbor Guidelines issued in 2013 under what is known as the “Cole Memo”.
The Cole Memo included eight factors for prosecutors to look at in deciding whether to charge a medical marijuana business with violating the Federal law:
- Does the business allow minors to gain access to marijuana?
- Is revenue from the business funding criminal activities or gangs?
- Is the marijuana being diverted to other states?
- Is the legitimate medical marijuana business being used as a cover or pretext for the traffic of other drugs or other criminal enterprises?
- Are violence or firearms being used in the cultivation and distribution of marijuana?
- Does the business contribute to drugged driving or other adverse public health issues?
- Is marijuana being grown on public lands or in a way that jeopardizes the environment or public safety?
- Is marijuana being used on federal property?
Since 2013, these guidelines provided a level of certainty to the marijuana industry as to what point could you be crossing the line with the Federal government. But on January 4, 2018, then Attorney General Jeff Sessions revoked the Cole Memo. Now U.S. Attorneys in the local offices throughout the country retain broad prosecutorial discretion as to whether to prosecute cannabis businesses under federal law even though the state that these businesses operate in have legalized some form of marijuana.
California State Penalties For Selling Cannabis Without A License.
But don’t think that just because cannabis is legal in California, you do not have to worry about the State.
California law mandates that you can only sell cannabis if you have obtained a license to do so. These licenses being issued by the BCC. If you don’t have a license, then selling cannabis or transporting it in order to sell it is still a crime under H&S Code §11360.
For most defendants, unlicensed sale or transport for sale of cannabis is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in county jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000. For defendants under 18, it is an infraction. Also, giving away or transporting for sale up to 28.5 grams of cannabis without a license is an infraction.
But the sale/transport for sale of cannabis without a license to do so is a felony for the following defendants:
- Defendants who have a prior conviction for one of a list of particularly serious violent felonies, including murder, sexually violent offenses, sex crimes against a child under 14, or gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, or a sex crime that requires them to register as a sex offender;
- Defendants who have two or more prior convictions for H&S Code §11360 sale/transportation of cannabis;
- Defendants who knowingly sold, attempted to sell, or offered to sell or furnish cannabis to someone under 18; or
- Defendants who imported or attempted or offered to import into California, or transported or attempted/offered to transport out of California for sale, more than 28.5 grams of cannabis or more than four grams of concentrated cannabis.
In any of these scenarios, black market sale or transportation for sale of cannabis under H&S Code §11360 is punishable anywhere from two to four years in jail.
Transporting cannabis without intent to sell it, or giving cannabis away, is not a crime in California so long as BOTH of the following are true:
- You transport or give away not more than 28.5 grams of cannabis or eight grams of concentrated cannabis, and
- Any people you give cannabis to are 21 years of age or older.
What Should You Do?
You can count on all level of government coordinating resources and making comprehensive strikes on unlicensed and illegal cannabis operations for the safety of the public or to enforce the Federal prohibition.
Both civil and criminal penalties will apply to unlicensed operators so it is imperative that anyone cultivating, manufacturing or distributing cannabis on a commercial basis in California seeks a local and state license for their operations immediately, if they have not already done so. Protect yourself and your investment by engaging a cannabis tax attorney at the Law Offices Of Jeffrey B. Kahn, P.C. located in Orange County (Irvine), the Inland Empire (including Ontario and Palm Springs) and other California locations. We can come up with tax solutions and strategies and protect you and your business and to maximize your net profits. Also, if you are involved in crypto currency, check out what a bitcoin tax attorney can do for you.