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, use of medical marijuana, and social acceptance of marijuana have already been reflected in many state laws. In fact, currently as many as 30 different jurisdictions have legalized some marijuana use according to a range of different restrictions. 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 your local state’s laws, 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 several conditions, such as participation in a drug awareness education program, submitting to random drug testing, or being placed on house arrest.
- Criminal Fines: In some jurisdictions, possession of a small amount of marijuana is considered no more serious than a traffic violation. Instead of facing arrest or possible jail-time, the offender may simply pay a fine. This is a more likely result if it is an individual’s first offense.
- Diversionary Programs: Similar to probation programs, diversionary programs 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 penalties can have a wide range depending on the nature of the charge (possession, distribution, cultivation), the quantity of marijuana seized, and the sentencing guidelines of the state. In addition, greater penalties may be imposed if certain aggravating factors are included in the charge.
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 (DUID), 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. Also, even in jurisdictions where marijuana use is legal under state law, federal law still considers marijuana to be an illegal substance. While the previous presidential administration stated it would not interfere with state marijuana laws, as of May 2017 it remains unclear how the current administration will enforce federal marijuana policy.
Do I Need a Lawyer?
While many states are moving toward decriminalizing marijuana, there can still be severe penalties for violating marijuana laws. If you have been charged with a marijuana related crime, it is important to consult a skilled criminal defense attorney. An experienced attorney can inform you of possible defenses, advocate for you in court, and seek available sentencing alternatives to keep you out of jail.
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Last Modified: 06-06-2017 01:02 AM PDT
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