Marijuana Sentencing Alternatives
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What Is the Legal Status of Marijuana?
Federal laws make the possession and distribution of marijuana illegal. However, decriminalization movements, medical marijuana usage, and social acceptance of marijuana use have already been reflected in many state laws. As a result, marijuana sentencing alternatives in several states have drastically changed in the past decade.
Many states have implemented laws that decriminalize marijuana possession, or that greatly reduce the legal penalties associated with marijuana violations. Unlike other types of drug crimes and drug-related offenses, marijuana crimes often carry with them various sentencing alternatives.
What Are Some Marijuana Sentencing Alternatives?
Depending on the laws of the state you are located in, there may be several non-jail alternatives for persons charged with marijuana-related offenses. These can include:
- Pre-Sentencing Probation: This allows the judge to postpone a sentence for the offender, and place them on probation instead. The defendant must usually fulfill a number of conditions, such as participation in a drug awareness education program or being placed on house arrest.
- Criminal Fines: In some jurisdictions, possession of a small amount of marijuana is considered a traffic violation, and will not result in a jail sentence or even arrest. Instead, the offender may have to pay a fine, especially if it is their first-time offense. However, charges may still appear on their criminal record, which can usually be expunged after some time.
- Diversionary Programs: These are similar to probation programs in that they allow the offender to avoid a jail sentence on condition that they complete various requirements. These can include performing community service or attending rehabilitation programs. Diversionary programs are especially common amongst juvenile offenders who have been charged with possession of marijuana.
For some of these sentencing alternatives, emphasis is placed on the defendant completing the required measures. For example, if the defendant fails to attend probation courses, they may lose their probation privileges, and will instead face normal sentencing methods like fines or jail time.
What Is an “Aggravating Factor” in Relation to Marijuana Crimes?
In states that have not decriminalized marijuana, legal penalties are similar to those for other drug offenses. These can include misdemeanor charges, which lead to criminal fines and a short period of jail time. Even in states that have lessened the seriousness of marijuana offenses, jail time can be imposed if certain “aggravating factors” are involved in the marijuana offense.
Some aggravating factors include:
- Possession of marijuana in a drug-free zone (such as near a school or day care);
- Giving marijuana to a minor, or possession in a minor’s presence;
- Existence of prior marijuana convictions on one’s record (i.e. the current charge is for a second offense);
- Growing marijuana or possessing an amount of marijuana above certain limits, with the intent to distribute or sell it;
- Driving while under the influence of marijuana (DUI), especially where the DUI results in injury to another person
Thus, even with more relaxed state policies, it’s still possible for a person to be subjected to serious criminal consequences for a marijuana crime. Lastly, remember that marijuana is also still illegal under federal laws, which can carry more serious sentencing penalties.
Do I Need a Lawyer?
Marijuana crimes can lead to various legal consequences. If you need legal assistance for marijuana charges, an experienced criminal lawyer in your area can be of much help to you. You may wish to contact a criminal attorney immediately for more information about marijuana sentencing alternatives in your state. Your lawyer can help defend you during court hearings.
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Last Modified: 05-18-2015 04:31 PM PDT
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