Cannabis Federal Laws and Penalties


When someone is convicted of an offense punishable by a mandatory minimum sentence, the judge must sentence the defendant to the mandatory minimum sentence or to a higher sentence. The judge has no power to sentence the defendant to less time than the mandatory minimum. A prisoner serving an MMS for a federal offense and for most state offenses will not be eligible for parole. Even peaceful marijuana smokers sentenced to “life MMS” must serve a life sentence with no chance of parole.

Offense Penalty Incarceration   Max. Fine


Any amount (first offense) misdemeanor 1 year $ 1,000
Any amount (second offense) misdemeanor 15 days* – 2 years $ 2,500
Any amount (subsequent offense) misdemeanor or felony 90 days* – 3 years $ 5,000
* Mandatory minimum sentence


Less than 50 kg felony 5 years $ 250,000
50 – 99 kg felony 20 years $ 1,000,000
100 – 999 kg felony 5 – 40 years $ 500,000
1000 kg or more felony 10 years – life $ 1,000,000
To a minor or within 1000 ft of a school, or other specified areas carries a double penalty.
Gift of small amount — see Possession


Less than 50 plants felony 5 years $ 250,000
50 – 99 plants felony 20 years $ 1,000,000
100 – 999 plants felony 5 – 40 years $ 500,000
1000 plants or more felony 10 years – life $ 1,000,000


Sale of paraphernalia felony 3 years N/A

Penalty Details

While District of Columbia residents have passed Initiative 71 legalizing the possession and home cultivation of marijuana for personal use under DC law, those provisions only apply when one is on DC property; not federal property. (Federal land comprises 18 square miles within the District of Columbia.)

Marijuana possession remains a federal offense, and the federal law applies to offenses committed on federal property, which includes the Capitol grounds and the mall within DC, as well as all national parks and military property nationwide, and other land under federal control.

Federal law also applies to offenses involving interstate commerce and importation from other countries.


Possession of marijuana is punishable by up to one year in jail and a minimum fine of $1,000 for a first conviction. For a second conviction, the penalties increase to a 15-day mandatory minimum sentence with a maximum of two years in prison and a fine of up to $2,500. Subsequent convictions carry a 90-day mandatory minimum sentence and a maximum of up to three years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.


Distribution of a small amount of marijuana, for no remuneration, is treated as possession. Manufacture or distribution of less than 50 plants or 50 kilograms of marijuana is punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. For 50-99 plants or 50-99 kilograms the penalty increases not more than 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $1 million if an individual, $5 million if other than an individual for the first offense. Manufacture or distribution of 100-999 plants or 100-999 kilograms carries a penalty of 5 – 40 years in prison and a fine of $2-$5 Million. For 1000 plants or 1000 kilograms or more, the penalty increases to 10 years – life in prison and a fine of $4-$10 Million.

Distribution of greater than 5 grams of marijuana to a minor under the age of 21 doubles the possible penalties. Distribution within 1,000 feet of a school, playground, public housing or within 100 feet of a youth center, public pool or video arcade also doubles the possible penalties.


The sale of paraphernalia is punishable by up to three years in prison.


The sentence of death can be carried out on a defendant who has been found guilty of manufacturing, importing or distributing a controlled substance if the act was committed as part of a continuing criminal enterprise – but only if the defendant is (1) the principal administrator, organizer, or leader of the enterprise or is one of several such principal administrators, organizers, or leaders, and (2) the quantity of the controlled substance is 60,000 kilograms or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of marijuana, or 60,000 or more marijuana plants, or the if the enterprise received more than $20 million in gross receipts during any 12-month period of its existence.