Updated on January 30, 2019.
Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
If you are a medical marijuana patient and you commonly share your weed with a friend or a loved one, you are, unfortunately, breaking the law in many states. While passing a joint or sharing a bong hit with someone else might not seem like a big deal, you could possibly find yourself in a great deal of trouble.
The Letter of the Law
The law considers it “redistribution” if anyone who has medical cannabis so much as shares a joint with someone else. Packaging on medical marijuana products clearly states the contents are only for use by the person purchasing them. Granted, the chances you would be caught are fairly slim — after all, would someone you’d pass a joint to be the type of person who would tell the Health Department? — but even so, if you do happen to be caught, you could see your medical marijuana card revoked and potentially even be looking at jail time in a worst-case scenario.
In Washington state, for example, sharing cannabis is considered felony distribution, an offense that is punishable by up to five years in jail and a fine of as much as $10,000. The law that legalized recreational cannabis in Washington, I-502, didn’t do a great deal to change the overall drug laws in the state.
But no one in a state where recreational weed is legal should have to face any sort of jail time just for sharing a bong hit with someone else. Legislators introduced bills that would address the potential of this happening. For example, Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Wells, a Democrat from Seattle, introduced legislation during the 2015 legislative session that would allow patients and recreational users to share up to an ounce of weed with another person.
Cooler Heads Prevail
Thankfully, a bill was enacted in July, 2016 that proved to be a victory for those who favor a common-sense approach to marijuana law. Many marijuana charges that were previously treated as felonies were reduced to misdemeanors. It established a clear delineation between offenses for which severe punishments can be handed down and others that are far more lenient. However, even under the new law, a misdemeanor is still punishable by a mandatory 24 hours in jail.
Progress has been made in Washington, but there’s still quite a way to go before the law is truly equitable. For example, possessing more than 40 grams of weed — not even two ounces — is still a felony. In addition, violators could be subjected to civil asset forfeiture, meaning they could lose their house, car and everything else they own.
Gaming the System
Anywhere weed is legal, someone will try to get around the law by purchasing cannabis in a dispensary and reselling it. The Washington law made this a misdemeanor as well, making the following offenses punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000:
Delivery of up to an ounce of marijuana
Delivery of up to 16 ounces of solid products infused with cannabis
Delivery of up to 72 ounces of liquid products infused with cannabis
Delivery of up to 7 grams of marijuana concentrates purchased from a licensed retailer
The Massachusetts Example
In 2008, the Supreme Judicial Court, Massachusetts’ highest court, addressed many issues related to sharing weed, consuming small amounts in public, and others. The Court ruled that any convictions of consuming a small amount of weed in a public place had to be thrown out because it was a civil infraction and not a crime for which someone could be arrested.
The public consumption case came from an incident that occurred at an event known as Hempfest, which is held annually in Boston. The defendant was smoking a joint in public and sharing it with some friends, which is a commonplace occurrence at the event. Police spotted the defendant, searched his backpack and found less than an ounce of weed wrapped in several small bags — the total amount of cannabis he had was 23.5 grams.
He was charged with possession with intent to distribute, but that Court threw out his conviction. Again, the Court ruled, police only arrested the man after they saw him smoking a joint in public, which is not a crime. One of the justices wrote that the Court now views the sharing of weed in the same way it views simple possession. It doesn’t look at sharing as “drug distribution,” or the transfer of cannabis from a seller to a buyer.
Sharing marijuana in a social setting, the Court ruled, does not give police the right to conduct a search without a warrant.
All the Way to the Highest Court in the Land
In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling on social sharing of small amounts of weed in a case involving an immigrant — who had legally been in the country for nearly 30 years — who was later deported after police found three joints in his car during a routine traffic stop.
The Court ruled that sharing a small amount of weed socially should not be treated as an aggravated felony under the nation’s immigration laws. The immigrant pled guilty to marijuana possession with intent to distribute, and though he was sentenced to no jail time (instead, he was given a sentence of five years of probation), the government ruled that he had to be deported because of his “crime.” This deportation was upheld by a lower court until it was ultimately thrown out by the Supreme Court.
People have had to go through some frightening situations simply because they were sharing a little bit of weed with someone else. While these don’t typically occur to the average person, it is a reminder that you have to be extremely careful when using medical marijuana. It’s only intended for your own use — not anyone else’s.
Whether you’re smoking a joint, taking a hit from a bong or eating a cannabis-infused brownie or cookie, make sure you and you alone are using it.