According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, marijuana is the most commonly used illegal drug in the United States. While some states have passed laws permitting or mostly decriminalizing possession of small amounts, like North Carolina, marijuana remains an illegal controlled substance under federal law. So getting busted for pot in North Carolina may, or may not, be a big deal. And that's the problem.
The conflict of state laws and federal laws means you may not be breaking the law in Charlotte, but you are still breaking a federal law. For decades, North Carolina has somewhat decriminalized possession of mariujana as long as you only have a half ounce or less. There are bills in process that may expand that to four ounces or less. But no matter what level of decriminalization, it's still a federal crime — and that's why you should always hire a drug charge attorney to protect you.
Federal Marijuana Law
Federal laws classify marijuana as a Schedule I drug. A first possession offense of any measurable amount carries misdemeanor penalties of imprisonment for up to one year and a minimum $1,000 fine. The penalty increases to a felony for a second offense. If you possess marijuana to sell it, the penalties become much harsher — including possible mandatory prison time and forfeiture of property or money. (21 U.S.C. §§ 812, 844 (2019).)
Because marijuana is still a Schedule 1 drug, federal prosecutors can prosecute conduct that is legal or decriminalized under a state’s marijuana laws. While federal prosecution for marijuana possession in states that allow it isn’t common, the increase in the number of states authorizing medical and recreational marijuana use means the federal government will continue to re-evaluate their position.
Marijuana Drug Possession: Legal and Illegal at the Same Time
Congress has the power to enact federal laws that affect “interstate commerce” — regulation that governs any movement of goods or services that cross state lines. So can federal law prohibit local use of marijuana in a state that authorizes it? Yes.
The Supreme Court determined that any use of marijuana, even at a local level, affects supply and demand in the national marijuana market. This determination gives Congress the right to regulate local use within a state. (Gonzales v. Raich, 545 U.S. 1 (2005).) This is one of the most important reasons for hiring a drug charge lawyer, even for what may seem like a minor infraction.
Criminal Penalties for Marijuana Drug Charges
If you’re arrested for possession of marijuana in Charlotte, North Carolina, you could face charges ranging from minor infractions to felonies. Here are the most relevant factors that determine the severity of the consequences.
How much marijuana did you have and where were you?
Punishment for marijuana possession varies according to the quantity of marijuana involved. A person who possesses a small amount might face misdemeanor penalties. If the quantity is large enough to imply that it’s being sold rather than for personal use, possession almost always constitutes a felony. Even when the amount is small, additional possession of scales or baggies could lead to a possession-for-sale charge.
Penalties can become severe if you are caught with pot near places where children and vulnerable adults frequent. If you are caught with marijuana near schools, parks, public housing, or drug treatment centers, your charges, and the subsequent penalties, could be severe without the help of a drug charge attorney.
What were you doing when you were busted and do you have prior convictions?
If you are associating with known offenders involved in drug trafficking, growing operations, and other crimes, your charges could escalate. If you are involved in violent activities, possess an illegal firearm, or other mitigating factors, even a small amount of marijuana could lead to severe felony penalties. Having multiple drug convictions usually leads to increased penalties. Instead of misdemeanor charges, a repeat offender might be looking at felony penalties and prison time.
So drug charges for marijuana may be a big deal under certain circumstances, but not under others. With so many factors affecting the outcome of your drug charges, handling your case is not a DIY project. Get in touch with a drug charge attorney at the Law Offices of Jason H. Reece to guide you to the best possible outcome.