Transporting Marijuana: Laws and Regulations

The legality of transporting marijuana depends on the state's laws. If marijuana is illegal in a particular state, transportation is also unlawful. In states where cannabis is legal, marijuana transportation laws vary. These laws depend on whether the transporter is a business or an individual.

States are slowly but surely legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana. At least 23 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized adult-use cannabis as of June 2023. And 38 have legalized medical marijuana. A handful of other states are leaning in the direction of legalizing recreational cannabis as well.

For those looking to break into the cannabis industry, it's important to remember that each state's cannabis laws are different. That includes different state agency regulations on the transportation of marijuana products. Under federal law, cannabis is still considered a Schedule 1 controlled substance. Thus, transporting cannabis plants across state lines is a state and federal issue.

Read on to learn more about the transportation of cannabis products within states and across state lines.

Legalization vs. Decriminalization

It's important to understand the difference between the legalization and decriminalization of the drug. In jurisdictions that have legalized marijuana, people can grow and sell marijuana as long as they do so in compliance with state or local laws.

Decriminalization occurs when a state changes its laws. At that point, certain acts are no longer subject to criminal prosecution. Yet even when a state decriminalizes possession or use of cannabis, it does not mean THC is legal in the state. For example, Illinois has legalized the recreational use of marijuana. Before it did, it passed a decriminalization statute. Prior to legalization, if a person in Illinois had a small amount of marijuana, they would have faced a civil penalty. No criminal consequences, such as a misdemeanor or jail time, would happen.

Transporting Marijuana: State Laws

In Colorado, an individual can transport marijuana if they are at least 21 years of age. But if the individual is a minor, there will be legal consequences. It is also illegal to operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of cannabis. This is true whether it's for medical or personal use. If the transporter is impaired, the state can suspend their driver's license and charge them with a DUI.

Businesses are generally treated differently by law enforcement. States with legal marijuana require businesses to be licensed by the state before transporting cannabis. For example, for a business to transport marijuana in Colorado, it needs to have a license from the state. In Washington state, a dispensary must have a cannabis retailer license and follow specific transportation requirements. California also allows licensees to transport marijuana. However, it limits transportation to within the state.

Transportation requirements differ from state to state. Thus, it's important to check with your state's licensing authorities before transporting marijuana.

Federal Laws on Transporting Marijuana

While several states have legalized marijuana, it's still illegal under federal law. Transporting cannabis across state lines could result in federal criminal prosecution. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency provides information explaining the penalties for trafficking marijuana. The penalty depends on the amount of marijuana being moved. It also depends on whether it's a defendant's first or second offense.

The federal government can prosecute a person engaged in a marijuana business that is otherwise legal under state law. In 2013, the deputy U.S. attorney general issued a memo outlining the enforcement priorities for marijuana. The memo didn't include prosecuting legal retailers complying with state laws.

But on Jan. 4, 2018, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memo on marijuana enforcement. That directive rescinded previous guidance documents on marijuana prosecutions. It also directed U.S. attorneys to enforce the laws enacted by Congress.

In October 2022, President Joe Biden said he would instruct his attorney general to review the Department of Justice's marijuana prosecution policy. He also set forth a plan to pardon anyone charged with a federal crime for simple cannabis possession.

Related Resources

Questions About Transporting Marijuana Laws and Regulations? A Lawyer Can Help

Marijuana laws can be tricky to navigate. If you have questions about transporting legal marijuana, contact a cannabis business attorney. A lawyer with experience in the medical cannabis or recreational cannabis market can help you navigate the process. If you are facing a criminal charge for transporting cannabis, contact a criminal defense attorney immediately.

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Restrictive federal laws and ever-changing state laws make the marijuana industry a dynamic environment for cannabis business owners. Before you open a cannabis business, make sure it is legal in your state, and follow your state laws. Once you decide on an LLC, S-corp, or C-corp business, you can register your business entity online using DIY business formation forms.

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