Simple possession or cultivation of marijuana for personal use is illegal under the federal law, as is possession with intent to sell, trafficking and conspiracy to distribute. Federal law classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 controlled substance which can result in most severe penalties.
Federal law does not recognize such standard defenses as the medical necessity defense or defense based on the approval of medical use of marijuana by a physician or the individual states. While currently there are some efforts underway Congress to recognize the rights of medical marijuana patients in states where medical marijuana laws are in effect, it is unlikely that any such attempt will succeed any time soon. So much for the respect and lip service for state rights.
To put it differently, there is no such thing as medical marijuana or medical marijuana defense under the federal law. Please note this fact, especially if you are planning to set up a medical marijuana dispensary in California or any other state where medical use and distribution of marijuana is legal under state law. Our advice is uncompromisingly and categorically blunt - DO NOT DO IT. If the local or state cops won't get you - the risk that the Federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) will - is significant, especially if you are too visible and careless in attracting attention from the feds.
Federal marijuana cases belong to the most challenging because of the relative lack of affirmative legal defenses and potentially severe penalties. There are mandatory prison sentence minimums of 5 and 10 years which are automatically imposed when certain quantities of marijuana - measured either in weight or number of plants - are involved. Federal marijuana cases require skilled and effective criminal defense lawyers who are knowledgeable both about marijuana and complex federal sentencing guidelines.
Because a lot is on the line once a federal case is filed and prosecuted, we recommend you contact our office for a non-binding consultation regarding your legal options.