What Are the Punishments for Possession of Marijuana?

Marijuana laws are ever-changing. 33 states currently allow marijuana use in some form, while others have fully legalized it, and yet others have not legalized it in any form. To make things even more confusing, marijuana is still fully illegal at the federal level.

So what does all of this mean? Can you get in trouble for possession of marijuana and if you do, what are the punishments? Read on to learn more.

Legalization vs. Decriminalization

Some states have legalized marijuana while others have decriminalized it. These are not the same thing.

Legalization means that you can possess, smoke, purchase, etc. marijuana without penalty (within the parameters determined by your state, of course).

Decriminalization, however, doesn’t make marijuana legal, instead, it treats possession of marijuana as a non-criminal offense. You’ll still get in trouble for it, but the penalty is often a fine, similar to a traffic offense. While you still have a punishment, you won’t end up with a criminal record.

Some states have legalized medical marijuana while decriminalizing marijuana for recreational use. It’s wise to know the laws in the state that you live in to make sure you are in compliance.

Possession of Marijuana Penalties

If you are in one of the 17 states that have not legalized marijuana in any form, you can face penalties ranging from fines and probation to potentially jail or prison time. The penalties will also vary by state and whether you are charged with a state crime or a federal crime.

Federal Penalties

At the federal level, the penalties increase based on the number of previous offenses you have:

  • First offense: up to 1 year in jail and up to $1,000 in fines
  • Second offense: up to 2 years incarceration (mandatory minimum of 15 days in jail) and up to $2,500 in fines
  • Third offense: up to 3 years incarceration (mandatory minimum of 90 days) and up to $5,000 in fines

Your first and second offenses are misdemeanors, but your third offense could potentially be charged as a felony.

State Penalties

Depending on the state and the circumstances, marijuana offenses could be charged as felonies or misdemeanors. Things that impact this include:

Amount of Drugs

Having a small amount of marijuana is not going to be treated as harshly as having large quantities. A small amount is viewed as marijuana for personal use while a large quantity is considered for sale, and is often charged as a felony.

Misdemeanors could result in short jail sentences and fines while large amounts could result in a prison sentence.

Where You Sell Drugs

If you are in possession of marijuana near where children are, such as a school, daycare, park, etc. the penalties are often greater. There are often increased penalties for possession of marijuana in public housing projects.

Prior Record

If you have prior convictions for possession of marijuana, subsequent convictions and penalties will typically be higher, because you are treated as a repeat offender. Misdemeanor offenses may be upgraded to felonies if you have previous offenses.

Other Consequences

There are other consequences that you may face for marijuana possession, including losing your driver’s license, inability to get federal student loans, eviction from public housing, and ineligibility for student jobs.

Regardless of whether you are facing state or federal charges for marijuana possession, you should consult with a criminal defense attorney. Learn more here about how an attorney can help you fight these charges.

Know Your Rights and the Laws

Make sure you know your rights and the laws for possession of marijuana. With 50 different states and the federal government all having different laws and penalties, knowing what you can and cannot do with marijuana can be confusing.

If you found this information informative, be sure to share it with friends and family and check out some of our other articles before you go.

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