Although Arizona residents were close to legalizing marijuana less than a year ago, the ballot lost by a slim margin, maintaining the illegality of marijuana in the state. Many believe that the next vote on the legalization of marijuana will have a different outcome. Until then, smoking, ingesting, or possessing recreational marijuana is still illegal. That’s why it’s important to know all you can about the consequences of marijuana possession.
Misdemeanor or a Felony
When caught with marijuana, it’s possible to be charged with either a misdemeanor or felony, typically depending on the amount found in your possession. Marijuana possession is classified as a class 6 felony, which – by a judge’s discretion – can be designated as a class 1 misdemeanor instead. Felony charges carry much more significant penalties, both in terms of the court system and how you’re affected once the case has been closed, which is why obtaining legal counsel from the onset is so crucial.
Jail Time for First-Time Offenders
Under Prop 200, courts cannot give jail time for first time marijuana personal possession offenders. There are specific exceptions to this, of course, one of which is if the drug offense was tied to a violent offense. In most cases of marijuana possession, however, you’ll likely be cited and released. Some other factors that could enhance your punishment include:
- Previous criminal record
- Multiple arrests for possession of illegal substances
- Arrest made in connection with a driving infraction
- If cultivation was involved
State vs. Federal Jurisdiction
The news coverage in recent years has highlighted overlapping state and federal laws as they pertain to marijuana possession. Federal law enforcement officials have reiterated their authority to arrest individuals for possession, regardless of a state’s laws. Though federal officials have yet to act on this authority in places where recreational marijuana has been legalized at the state level, there exists important distinctions between being arrested by state or federal officials. The most significant difference, in most cases, is that federal penalties are potentially more severe. If you are arrested by federal law enforcement, the agency is likely pursuing additional charges, ranging from drug trafficking and grow operations, to violent activities or unlawful possession of firearms. This is why it is essential that you hire an effective criminal attorney, like those at the Schill Law Group, to protect your legal rights.
Mandatory Penalties for Personal Possession
Marijuana possession carries with it a mandatory fine that is calculated at either a base rate or by the value of the drug, plus a surcharge. In addition to the monetary fine, you may also be required to perform community service, complete drug awareness classes, or be placed on probation. Many people who have been arrested for possession seek out a plea deal without even consulting an attorney aside from a public defender, which often means that these penalties are not explained clearly, and may not be in your best interest. Even these lesser mandatory penalties can disrupt a person’s life for months, or possibly even years.
Loss of Federal Financial Aid and Employment
A marijuana possession conviction could lead you to lose eligibility for federal financial aid, as well as damage your reputation when trying to find employment. It could also exclude you from some jobs that require fingerprint clearance. Just as we discussed above, these types of secondary penalties are not typically explained to the arrested individual by law enforcement, which is yet another reason why proper counsel must be obtained if you hope to lessen your punishment for years to come.