California Marijuana Law’s Explained
Few drugs are so contentious as marijuana. It is seen by many as harmless, often condoned if not advocated in popular culture, sometimes prescribed by doctors to regulate chronic pain, yet it is still illegal almost everywhere in the United States, based on laws some would call old fashioned, or even draconian. Few drugs spark as much controversy and debate as marijuana does, but while the sociopolitical argument rages many people are still being arrested and prosecuted for the growth, possession, and use of marijuana.
What should you do if you are accused of a marijuana-related offense?
The best course of action is always to hire a lawyer. Make sure you are represented, and get an experienced professional attorney analyzing your case as early as you can. Moving quickly can help build a solid defense, get charges reduced, or even get your case thrown out entirely. Having an attorney on your side early in the proceedings will always increase your chances of mounting a successful defense.
What marijuana-related crimes can you be charged with?
There are four sections of the law that cover the possession, use, cultivation or sale of marijuana.
- Health and Safety Code Section 11357 makes it illegal to posses marijuana for personal use – with the exception of any marijuana that is prescribed for medical reasons. Charges of possession require that you had marijuana on your person, that you knew that you had it, that you knew it was a drug, and that you had enough of it that it could be used as a drug. This crime is a misdemeanor, and, depending on the police officers and jurisdiction where the crime took place, may be dismissed with only a fine or warning.
- Health and Safety Code Section 11358 makes the cultivation of marijuana plants a felony, punishable by up to three years in state prison and a $10,000 fine. This includes handling any marijuana seeds, cultivating them in soil, and drying and processing the marijuana leaves after they have been harvested.
- Health and Safety Code Section 11359 makes it illegal to possess marijuana with the intent to distribute or sell to others. This charge is more severe than simple possession for personal use, and must meet the more stringent burden of proof of intent to sell. Most cases will use circumstances like the following to indicate such an intent:
- The amount of marijuana present is more than a single person would normally use
- The marijuana is packaged in several small packets or baggies
- There is no sign that the suspect has been using marijuana, or there is no paraphernalia present
- The suspect is found with the marijuana in a suspicious location, where one might expect a drug deal to take place
- The suspect is in possession of a large amount of cash they cannot account for, or with a weapon of some sort
- Police witness the marijuana being exchanged from one person to another – with or without money changing hands.
- Health and Safety Code Section 11360 makes it illegal to sell, distribute, or transport marijuana, or to offer or attempt to sell, distribute, or transport marijuana. No money or marijuana necessarily needs to change hands for such a crime to be charged – if police have reason to believe that the suspect offered and intended to sell marijuana to another individual that can be enough to charge that suspect under this section of the law. This is often used by police to set up sting operations or controlled buys of marijuana, in order to catch suspects in the act of selling or setting up a deal to sell marijuana.
What are the best defenses against marijuana related charges?
The simplest and most effective way to overturn a marijuana charge is to show that the marijuana in question was necessary for an ongoing medical condition. Obviously, this is going to require that such a condition exists, and that a doctor prescribed the marijuana for its treatment. Barring that scenario, some other mitigating factors can be used to help reduce or dismiss charges.
Some marijuana charges rely on the suspects intent, which can be a tricky thing to prove. A person who was in possession of a large quantity of marijuana may not have intended to sell or distribute it, rather having decided to ‘stock up’ for personal use. A person who has been goaded into selling marijuana by an undercover police officer may not necessarily be guilty of possession with intent to sell, if it can be shown that the police officer’s actions could legally be considered entrapment.
A marijuana plant being cultivated in a common area that multiple people have access to may not actually belong to the subject in question, since other suspects had the ability to cultivate the plant as well. Utilizing the elements of reasonable doubt is a solid plan for the defense of drug charge cases, and can result in charges being reduced from felony to misdemeanor, or being dismissed entirely.
What steps should you take to defend your rights?
The first, most important step is to contact an attorney as quickly as possible. The assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney is invaluable in setting up your defense and analyzing the facts of your case. The earlier you retain counsel, the better your chances of having charges reduced or dismissed.
If you or a loved one faces a criminal charge in California involving the possession, sale, use, cultivation, possession for sale, transportation or distribution of marijuana, we invite you to contact us. Call our law offices for a free initial consultation, and we’ll help you decide what the best course of action is for defending your case.