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According to 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), there 22.2 million marijuana users, aged 12 or older, in the United States at that time, making it the number one illegal drug in the country, with ranking based on the number of users.

While some states have legalized or decriminalized certain forms of marijuana use, under federal law it is a controlled substance.  However, in all states, marijuana possessions is still a violation of federal law.

The survey source can be found here: https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-FFR1-2015/NSDUH-FFR1-2015/NSDUH-FFR1-2015.pdf

In the state of Florida, possession of marijuana is generally illegal, however, as of November 8, 2016, a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana for medical use was passed by the voters of Florida.  Amendment 2, as this new amendment is called, took effect January 2017 and legalizes medical marijuana usage for debilitating medical conditions, as long as the patient possesses a valid ID card and a physician’s certification.

The debilitating medical conditions covered under Amendment 2 include:

  • Cancer
  • Glaucoma
  • Epilepsy
  • Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS)
  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Crohn’s and Parkinson’s disease
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Any other debilitating medical conditions of the same class as the above mentioned, in which a physician believes that the medical use of marijuana would outweigh the potential health risks for the patient

For non-medical possession of marijuana, in Florida, up to 20 grams of marijuana is classified as a first-degree misdemeanor, carrying a sentence of up to 1 year in jail.

The outcome of a marijuana possession criminal case is affected by the following primary factors:

  • Jurisdiction
  • Legalization
  • Decriminalization
  • Quantity
  • Medical ID

Which law enforcement organization made the arrest for possession will determine whether the case will fall under federal or state jurisdiction.  If the accused was arrested by state or local law enforcement, the possible charges and penalties will be pursuant to state law.  If however, the accused was arrested by federal law enforcement, the case will fall under federal jurisdiction.  When someone is arrested for marijuana possession by federal agents, it is typically linked to a large-scale grow operation, drug trafficking, or in relation to violent activities, criminal enterprises or unlawful possession of firearms.

Federal guidelines classify possession of marijuana as a misdemeanor and for a first offense, it is punishable by up to $1000 in fines and up to 1 year in federal prison.  However, if the offense is related to larger, more serious violations, such as criminal enterprises or drug trafficking the federal penalties are categorized as felonies and as such, the potential sentences are significantly more serious.  While uncommon, federal prosecutors may legally prosecute a marijuana crime that took place in a state where the potential crime is technically legal.

There are currently 5 states that have legalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use.  In Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Washington DC and Colorado, possession of marijuana is completely legal, with no legal ramifications, so long as the amount possessed falls within the legal limit.

In addition to the state that has legalized marijuana usage, there are several states that have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana, to the point where it is considered to be a minor violation with the only penalty being small fines.  In fact, in most of these states, as long as the amount possessed falls into the state’s limit for personal use, once any applicable fines are paid, first-time offenders usually have no criminal record.  The states that have currently decriminalized marijuana possession are California, Maine, Connecticut, Ohio, North Carolina, Massachusetts, New York, Minnesota, Nevada, Mississippi, and Nebraska.  In these states, if offenders are found with marijuana in their possession, they are not arrested but instead receive a citation or ticket.  Exceptions to this would be if they are repeat offenders or if they are in possession of a large quantity of marijuana.

As with most drug possession charges, the legally allowed punishment for marijuana possession varies depending on the quantity that they accused is found to be in possession of.  If the quantity possessed is deemed an acceptable quantity for personal use, the charge is often just a misdemeanor.  However, if the amount in possession is in excess of that allowed for personal use, the charges are almost always felony in nature.  In most states, possessing more than one kilogram of marijuana is a felony offense.  Additional felony charges can be brought against the accused if there is evidence to support growing, cultivation, manufacturing or sale of marijuana or related drug paraphernalia.

In states that allow for the legal use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, it is important that individuals who are legally allowed to possess marijuana keep their medical ID and their physician certificate in their possession.  They can still be arrested for marijuana possession if they have marijuana on their person but do not have the necessary IDs.

In the state of Florida, the penalties for marijuana possession are as follows:

  • 20 grams or less is a misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of 1 year and up to $1,000 in fines
  • 20 grams up to 25 pounds is a felony with a maximum sentence of 5 years and up to $5,000 in fines
  • 25 pounds up to 2,000 pounds is a felony with a mandatory minimum sentence of 3 years and a maximum sentence of 15 years and up to $25,000 in fines
  • 2,000 pounds up to 10,000 pounds is a felony with a mandatory minimum sentence of 7 years and a maximum sentence of 30 years and up to $50,000 in fines
  • 10,000 pounds or more is a felony with a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years and a maximum sentence of 30 years and up to $200,000 in fines
  • Up to 25 plants is a felony with a maximum sentence of 5 years and up to $5,000 in fines
  • 25 plants up to 300 plants is a felony with a sentence of 15 years and up to $10,000 in fines
  • 300 plants up to 2,000 plants is a felony with a mandatory minimum sentence of 3 years and a maximum sentence of 15 years and up to $25,000 in fines
  • 2,000 plants up to 10,000 plants is a felony with a mandatory minimum sentence of 7 years and a maximum sentence of 30 years and up to $50,000 in fines
  • Possession within 1,000 feet of a school, college, park or other specified area is a felony with a sentence of up to 15 years and up to $10,000 in fines

Marijuana possession criminal charges can be very serious.  An experienced criminal defense attorney will be able to provide beneficial guidance to individuals who have been charged with drug possession.

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