One of the odd things about so many states legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana around the country is that marijuana is still federally illegal. A lot of people know this, but never really think about what it means.

This is especially important for people who legally indulge in marijuana or other types of cannabis products without paying attention to exactly where they are. Federal lands exist everywhere in the country and the moment someone steps on federal property with marijuana on them, they are committing a crime. Here are a few things to consider. 

What Exactly Are Federal Lands?

Federal land is land owned or administered by the United States government. These lands are all over the place and there’s a chance that you visit them all the time even if you never thought about it. Collectively, the United States owns around 28% of all the land in the country.

The largest chunks of federal property are in Alaska and a lot of western states. Federal land includes a lot of:

  • National parks
  • Military reservations and bases
  • National wildlife refuges
  • National reserves

Really, anything that begins with “national” is probably federal land. Many people visit some of these places and never really think twice about the fact that they’re subject to completely different laws when they step foot on any federally owned property.

And It’s Not Just Federal Land

An interesting thing to note is that federal employees cannot partake in marijuana, even if they live in a state that legalized it. People who live in federally subsidized housing can’t use marijuana on their property, even if the house is in a weed-friendly state.

Washington DC legalized marijuana, and it’s still illegal to have it around any of the government buildings or other federal property within the district. As you can probably see, the situation borders on the ridiculous, but it’s very real.

You might feel it’s okay to go camping or hiking or skiing on one of these federal properties with your whole marijuana kit ready for a good time. You may find, to your dismay, that you’re on federally leased land and just having the weed or other marijuana product can get you into serious trouble. A lot of outdoor places lease federal land, so even when you think you’re on private property, it’s best to make sure.

This type of thing comes up in places like Colorado. The state legalized marijuana so a Colorado dispensary isn’t hard to find. The legalization coupled with the great outdoors holds a huge attraction for people who want to come enjoy what the state has to offer. They can find themselves on the receiving end of a bad time with any federal law enforcement that finds them on any patch of federal land in the state.

This isn’t all to scare anyone away from enjoying their marijuana outdoors. The odds of something bad happening aren’t that great, and hunting down marijuana users isn’t a big focus of the federal government these days.

Nevertheless, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. You don’t want to give anyone an excuse to harass you or arrest you for something that’s recreationally legal or medically necessary in your home state.


How Serious Can Smoking a Little Weed on Federal Land Be?

Marijuana is still classified as a Schedule 1 drug by the federal government. That designation makes weed not just illegal for recreational use, it’s illegal for medical purposes as well. Federal law considers any amount of marijuana as illegal.

Outside of growing it or selling it, a first-time possession offense of any amount of marijuana can lead to up to a year in jail and up to a $1,000 fine. The penalties rise with each offense, and marijuana falls into the category of offenses that come with mandatory minimum sentencing.

If you can’t bring yourself to give up the bit of forest or rocky trail where you like to get high and watch the sunset, try to stay safe. Look out for rangers, keep to yourself, and choose a method that won’t draw attention to you. For example, an edible might work better than anything that creates smells or smoke.

Even better, if you can smoke freely where you live, try to find nice areas owned by your state, rather than those owned by the federal government. You should also make yourself aware of what constitutes federal land in your area. This isn’t difficult to do as you can find many lists of what lands the government owns on the internet.

As a somewhat unrelated sidenote, you may find it interesting that marijuana studies can’t go forward specifically because the government refuses to remove cannabis as a Schedule 1 substance. Although, the FDA has started saying a few things about marijuana. In addition, there have been attempts to at least have marijuana decriminalized at the federal level.

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