THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY JANE
by Jason Diamond, Esq.
Let’s talk about possession. Put away your holy water, folks, I’m not talking about the supernatural kind. The possession I’m referring to is of a more garden variety.
During my almost 20 years as both a traffic ticket attorney and criminal attorney, I’ve defended hundreds of clients who have faced drug possession charges. A drug possession conviction can have a serious impact on your life and Florida courts tend to be aggressive in pursuing minor and major drug possession charges. For example, possession of marijuana under 20 grams is a misdemeanor. If you are convicted (found guilty), you could lose your driver’s license for up to 2 years. You can also find yourself in jail for up to a year.
Whatever you do, don’t plead guilty to a drug possession charge in Florida before speaking to an attorney and discussing all of your defense options. You do not want to live with a criminal conviction looming over you and your potential job prospects for the rest of your life. In many cases, this criminal conviction can be avoided. You may even be able to have your drug possession charges completely dismissed or reduced. Also, if you do plead guilty and lose your license, you can not get a work permit. This means no driving in Florida, or anywhere else for two years.
There are a variety of excellent defenses an attorney can use when defending against a drug possession charge. For example, an attorney can file a motion to suppress the evidence if the police didn’t have a legal right to search you, pull you over, search your car or search your home. Police officers often behave carelessly in searches, and violate your constitutional rights. Some Florida counties have special drug courts that are design to help people who have drug addiction problems, and aren’t completely focused on punishment. An attorney can argue for enrollment in a treatment program in exchange for leniency in sentencing to avoid a harsh verdict.
The consequences of being convicted of a drug possession charge go above and beyond your driver’s license being suspended or revoked. As I have mentioned, having a drug possession conviction can severely interfere with obtaining gainful employment when your potential employer runs a background check, when you apply for a position related to law enforcement, or when you apply to a profession with certification requirements. A criminal conviction, unless expunged, will follow you for the rest of your life. A criminal conviction is public record, which means that anyone with an internet connection can obtain records of all your prior criminal convictions, down to the date of when you committed them.
One of the most common possession charges is possession of cannabis or, as it is more commonly known, marijuana. Marijuana is a drug derived from the Cannabis plant with the intended purpose of use as a psychoactive drug (a chemical substance that interacts with your central nervous system and therefore affects brain function, including but not limited to: alterations in perception, mood, consciousness, cognition, and behavior), and/or for medicinal use.
The United Nations estimated that 4% of the adult world population (that’s 162 million people), use cannabis annually, and 0.6% (that’s 22.5 million) people use cannabis daily. It’s no surprise that there is a growing movement in many states to legalize cannabis (marijuana) for prescription use to treat conditions such as chronic pain and certain diseases such as cancer and glaucoma. There is also another movement, albeit smaller, to legalize the use of marijuana as a recreational drug, equivalent to alcohol or tobacco.
Despite these movements toward legalization, only a few states have gone so far as to allow the use of marijuana solely by prescription. Florida is not one of these states. Having said that, it will be on the ballot in November and with a little luck (and 60% support) it may pass. Until then however, it is necessary for one to understand the laws relating to cannabis in the State of Florida before taking any across the state line.
The State of Florida uses a progressive chart when determining the charge and severity in both possession and sale, or cultivation. This progressive chart can be roughly summarized as thus:
- 20 Grams or Less: Possession OR delivery of less than 20 grams is classified as a misdemeanor that carries a fine of up to 1,000 USD and/or 1 year in jail. This is assuming that one delivers a small amount and does not receive payment in exchange for that delivery.
- Paraphemalia: Possession of paraphernalia (pipes, bongs, etcetera) is also considered a misdemeanor and carries the same penalties (a fine up to 1,000 USD and/or 1 year in jail). This charge can be added to the charge associated with the drug itself.
- Over 20 Grams: Any delivery of over twenty grams OR sale of marijuana of up to twenty five pounds is considered a felony. Once you reach this level, you could be looking at 5 years in prison and/or up to 5,000 USD in fines.
- 24 Plants or More: Possession of greater than twenty four marijuana plants or any sale or cultivation of the plant within one thousand feet of a school, park, daycare, etcetera, is punishable by fines up to 10,000 USD and a prison term up to 15 years. Judges tend to hand out the maximum sentence for operating near these locations because they are relating to children.
- Over 25 Pounds: If you are growing or selling marijuana over the amount of twenty five pounds, you are considered to be trafficking an illegal substance. A conviction for trafficking will carry a mandatory sentences. This means that judges do not have the ‘wiggle room’ to be lenient in their sentencing.
- 25-2,000 Pounds (or Plants): If you charged with possession of twenty five to two thousand pounds (or plants) of marijuana, and are convicted, you are looking at a minimum mandatory sentence of 3 years in prison and a fine up to 25,000 USD.
- 2,000-10,000 Pounds (or Plants): If you are charged with possession of two thousand to ten thousand pounds (or plants) of marijuana, and are convicted, you are looking at a minimum sentence of 7 years and a fine up to 50,000 USD.
- Over 10,000 Pounds (or Plants): If you are charged with possession of over ten thousand pounds (or plants) or marijuana, and are convicted, you are looking at a minimum sentence of 15 years in prison and a fine up to 20,000 USD.
Let’s talk about what happens to your driving privileges if you are charged, and convicted, of any charge relating to marijuana or drugs. Your driving privileges will be automatically suspended for a period of at least 6 months and less than 2 years. This applies whether you were charged with a misdemeanor or a felony.
There are several states that have passed legislation that allows doctors to prescribe cannabis as a treatment for certain chronic and/or terminal conditions. These states include: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, DC, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. As you may have noticed, Florida is not on that list … YET!
Marijuana, both the plant and drug, are still illegal in the state of Florida and trafficking within Florida carries very stiff penalties. If you are convicted of any trafficking related offense, you will face mandatory minimum sentences that do not provide judges with any discretion for leniency, even if you cooperate with the authorities.
If you have been charged with a possession charge, don’t hesitate to call my office for a free consultation. Many drug related convictions can be avoided and we may even be able to keep you out of court. Call (954) 067-9888 for a free consultation for your drug charge to discuss your options.