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Will the Federal Government Prosecute Individual Possession or Sale of Marijuana?

Updated: Apr 27


The federal government has stated, numerous times, that marijuana users will not be targets for prosecution. The federal government has made it clear that it will not prosecute individuals, or businesses, as long as the individual or business is complying with state law, and as long as the state has a comprehensive state regulatory system in place. As stated in the Cole Memo dated August 29, 2013, "A system....must not only contain robust controls and procedures on paper; it must also be effective in practice."

The memo explained that prosecution would be limited to eight federal priorities:


• Preventing marijuana distribution to minors;

• Preventing money from sales from going to criminal groups;

• Preventing the diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal to states where it is illegal;

• Preventing criminal groups from using state laws as cover for trafficking of other illegal drugs;

• Preventing violence and the use of illegal firearms;

• Preventing drugged driving and marijuana-related public health problems;

• Preventing the growing of marijuana on public lands;

• Preventing marijuana possession or use on federal property.


Theoretically, if a person or business is not violating one of the above, then the person or business will not be prosecuted by the federal government. However, it is important to note that the Controlled Substances Act carries more authority than these memos. Thus, the federal government, at any time, can rescind these memos and begin to prosecute under the CSA.




Thorburn Law Group is a full service Colorado cannabis law firm, and represents the cannabis industry in most aspects of the law. We offer a full suite of legal services to entities of all types and sizes that work within or alongside the regulated cannabis industry, and have over 30 years experience in what we do. We have working relationships with many state and federal representatives. We have taken our vast knowledge and have applied it within the cannabis sphere for the past 10 years, helping to pave the way for the industry.