Explanation of Marijuana Possession in Federal Court
Why am I being charged with Marijuana Possession when it’s legal in my state?
Unlike many state legislatures in recent years, the U.S. Congress has not decriminalized marijuana possession. Marijuana possession in federal court still remains a crime that carries a jail sentence. Likewise, federal law does not allow doctors to prescribe it for medical use.
Federal law classifies drugs into one of 5 Schedules according to whether they have an accepted medical use, their potential for abuse, and whether they can be safely used under supervision and their dependence liability. The more dangerous a drug is under these criteria, the higher up on the list of schedules it is. The most dangerous drugs are Schedule I drugs. Even though many people do not consider marijuana do be a dangerous drug, under federal law it has been classified as a Schedule I drug. The potential penalties for marijuana-related federal crimes can be surprisingly severe, even for simple possession.
Criminal Penalties for Simple Possession, 21 U.S.C.A. § 844
Marijuana possession in federal court is a Class A Misdemeanor that carries a penalty of up to 1 year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000, if it’s your first charge.
Subsequent convictions for marijuana possession are felonies that come with mandatory minimum jail sentences. A second conviction requires a mandatory minimum jail sentence of 15 days and a maximum sentence of 2 years. The maximum fine increases to $2,500. A third or subsequent conviction could become a felony and requires a mandatory minimum sentence of 90 days in jail and a maximum sentence of up to 3 years. The maximum fine increased to $5,000.
“Possession” includes obvious or “actual” possession, for example, when the marijuana is found in a person’s pocket. But it also includes “constructive possession,” which can be proven by showing the drug was within a person’s area of control and that the person knew or should have known about the drugs.
Civil Penalty for Simple Possession, 21 U.S.C.A. § 844a
Whether or not a person is criminally prosecuted for possession of marijuana, he or she may face a civil penalty of up to $10,000 and could also have to pay the government for the costs of the investigation and prosecution.
Deferred Disposition for First-Time Misdemeanor Marijuana Possession, 18 U.S.C.S. § 3607
A first-time offender who has been charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession may be eligible for a deferred disposition. To be eligible, the person must not have any prior state or federal drug-related convictions and must not have already had a deferred disposition.
Under this program, a defendant pleads guilty or is found guilty, but the court does not immediately officially enter the conviction into the record. If the defendant successfully completes one year of probation, the court will not enter the conviction and the case will be dismissed.
Misdemeanor Marijuana Distribution, 21 U.S.C.A. § 841(a)(B)(4).
Marijuana crimes involving the intent to manufacture, distribute, or dispense are felonies with more severe penalties—with one exception. A case in which a person who distributes a small amount of marijuana for no remuneration is treated as a simple misdemeanor possession case.
Forfeiture of Personal Property, 21 USC 853
When a person is convicted of a drug charge that is punishable by more than one year in prison, any property, real or personal, that was used or intended to be used to facilitate the crime or that constitute proceeds of the crime may be forfeited to the government. Forfeited property can include homes and cars.
Potential Collateral Consequences of a Conviction
In addition to criminal and civil penalties, federal drug convictions can result in a whole host of so-called collateral, or secondary, consequences. But many of these may be of primary importance in the lives of some defendants. Depending upon the nature of the conviction, these consequences could include detrimental impacts to a person’s:
- Immigration status
- Security Clearances
- Professional Licenses
- Firearm Ownership
- Public Housing Eligibility
- Driving Privileges
- Eligibility for Federal Benefits
Should I get a lawyer for a federal misdemeanor marijuana possession charge?
Even a first offense for marijuana possession can result in up to a year in jail, so getting a competent criminal attorney is critical. An attorney can assess your case and the government’s evidence to determine what defenses may be available. There are often Fourth Amendment search and seizure arguments that can be made in drug cases. In some cases, an attorney may also be able to argue that a defendant did not actually or constructively possess the drug. Each case varies depending on the specific circumstances and a good defense attorney will be able to determine what arguments to make. In the event the facts and evidence are difficult to overcome, an attorney can also negotiate with the prosecutor to get the best deal possible.