marijuana; transportation of drugs; California LawCan I transport marijuana from Colorado to California? Unlike the new Colorado laws which have legalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana regardless if it is medically necessary, both California law only allow for the possession of marijuana in specific instances where it is medically necessary.   Colorado allows out-of-state residents to purchase small amounts of marijuana but the state law does not govern the transportation of such legally purchased marijuana across state lines to places like California.  At this point, it is clear that  Colorado along with California are still subject to Federal enforcement of drug laws as they relate to the enforcement of the possession and possession for sale of marijuana.

President Obama has recently made public comments insinuating that Marijuana is not as dangerous as alcohol and should be legal.  In fact, the President’s administration employs a policy in most instances not to arrest persons for the possession of small amounts of marijuana but usually concentrate on making arrests for the sale, cultivation and transportation of more than 100 plants of marijuana which includes the importation of large amounts of marijuana from Mexico.  The Federal Government including the DEA and apparently the CIA can pick and choose which drug offenders to prosecute.   As we have seen on such TV dramas as Sons of Anarchy, some conspiracy theorists believe that the Federal Government will allow and/or even control drug traffficking depending on the goal of the government.

Many persons have been prosecuted and or arrested in California including Los Angeles County for possession for sale of large sums of drugs including marijuana.   As a person charged with a crime seeks the legal advise of a competent criminal defense attorney whether it be in Los Angeles or throughout California, they will soon learn the pitfalls of the California medical marijuana law as it applies to the possession, distribution and transportation of large sums of marijuana.

 What Is The Best Defense Against Criminal Possession for Sale of Marijuana Charges in California?

If arrested in California for transporting marijuana into California, you should first consult with a an experienced criminal defense attorney.   However, one should know that while in possession of marijuana in California, you are subject to California laws regarding such possession and transportation along with the federal laws discussed above.

Many people who are members of and/or run medical marijuana dispensaries believe that if they have a proper prescription and/or are lawfully a member of a medical marijuana collective that they are immune from prosecution in California for charges of possession and/or possession for sale of marijuana.   Unfortunately, this belief is mistaken in most cases and if caught with marijuana especially transporting large quantities of marijuana you will be faced with defending yourself in a state and sometimes federal prosecution. However, a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney whether your case is in Los Angeles County or a more conservative county such as Orange County can guide you through the process and technical nature of the medical marijuana laws in securing a positive result against criminal drug possession charges.

California State Medical Marijuana Laws

The possession of medical marijuana was made legal in 1996 by the passing of the California Compassionate Use Act 1996, Cal. Health & Saf. Code, § 11362.5 (1996) (codifying voter initiative Prop. 215).    In 2003, the medical marijuana laws were amended under  Cal. Health & Saf. Code, §§ 11362.7 – 11362.83 (2003) (codifying SB 420).

Under the 2003 amendments, qualified patients and/or their primary caregivers may possess no more than eight ounces of dried marijuana and/or six mature (or 12 immature) marijuana plants. However, the 2003 amendments allows patients to possess larger amounts of marijuana when such quantities are recommended by a physician. The legislation also allows counties and municipalities to approve and/or maintain local ordinances permitting patients to possess larger quantities of medicinal marijuana than allowed under the new state guidelines.

The medical marijuana statute also grants implied legal protection to the state’s medicinal marijuana dispensaries, stating, “Qualified patients, persons with valid identification cards, and the designated primary caregivers of qualified patients … who associate within the state of California in order collectively or cooperatively to cultivate marijuana for medical purposes, shall not solely on the basis of that fact be subject to state criminal sanctions.”

Although much of these laws are very clear there are many ambiguities especially dealing with exceptions to possessing certain quanities of marijuana which allow for persons to use in the defense of a possession of marijuana for sale case.

Many persons believe that as long as they have a marijuana prescription card they can possess and transport as much marijuana as they like and will not be arrested.   However, given that the medical marijuana laws are very new, most law enforcement will arrest any persons transporting large quanitities of marijuana and make that person defend themselves against possession for sale of narcotics charges.   This creates a situation where a person must hire a qualified attorney who is familiar with the medical marijuana laws so that a person can successfully defend themselves against state felony charges.

Federal Marijuana Laws and Prosecution

As most people know, Federal Law still outlaws the possession, sale and transportation of Marijuana.  Recently, in many California counties including Los Angeles and Mendocino County, there have been large scale arrests and prosecutions of marijuana dispensaries who possess, sell and transport large quanities of marijuana.   

The federal government regulates drugs through the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) (21 U.S.C. § 811), which does not recognize the difference between recreational use of marijuana and medical marijuana. As indicated herein, these laws are generally applied only against persons who possess, cultivate, or distribute large quantities of marijuana.

Federal law treats marijuana  like every other controlled substance, such as cocaine and methamphetamine. The federal government places every controlled substance in a schedule, in principle according to its relative potential for abuse and medicinal value. Under federal law, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug, which means that the federal government views marijuana as highly addictive and having no medical value. Doctors may not “prescribe” marijuana for medical use under federal law, though they can “recommend” its use under the First Amendment.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has taken a substantial interest in  large cultivation and distribution operations of medical marijuana. Over the past year, dozens of people have been targets of federal enforcement actions. Many of them have either been arrested or had property seized. More than a hundred are currently in prison or are facing charges or ongoing criminal or civil investigations for their cultivation or distribution of medical marijuana.

There appears to be “tug of war” between the federal government and state laws regarding the regulation of  medical marijuana. On the one hand, the federal government makes it a crime to cultivate, possess, or use marijuana for any purpose. On the other hand, many states including California allow the use of marijuana for medical reasons. In cases where federal laws and state laws collide, federal law prevails, and users of state-authorized medical marijuana may still be arrested and/or prosecuted.

The federal government shifted its attention to larger drug trafficking issues when the Obama Administration took over in 2009, with the Department of Justice stating it would not prioritize the enforcement of federal marijuana laws on authorized users of medical marijuana or their caregivers. However, the DOJ resumed its prosecution of medical marijuana providers in 2011 and put pressure on publishers who run ads for medical marijuana dispensaries.

Since the Federal Government has resumed its enforcement of marijuana laws it is necessary that persons and collectives know the dangers and potential consequences of possessing, cultivating or transporting large amounts of Marijuana.

Federal criminal sentences are complicated the a Judge used to be bound by mandatory minimum sentences.  Although not now bound by such draconian laws, Federal judges still follow mandatory minimum guidelines for sentences and will only use their discretion to depart from those guidelines in certain situations which warrant a lesser sentence.

Possession of marijuana is punishable by up to one year in jail and a minimum fine of $1,000 for a first conviction. For a second conviction, the penalties increase to a 15-day mandatory minimum sentence with a maximum of two years in prison and a fine of up to $2,500. Subsequent convictions carry a 90-day mandatory minimum sentence and a maximum of up to three years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.

Distribution of a small amount of marijuana, for no remuneration, is treated as possession. Manufacture or distribution of less than 50 plants or 50 kilograms of marijuana is punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. For 50-99 plants or 50-99 kilograms the penalty increases not more than 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $1 million if an individual, $5 million if other than an individual for the first offense. Manufacture or distribution of 100-999 plants or 100-999 kilograms carries a penalty of 5 – 40 years in prison and a fine of $2-$5 Million. For 1000 plants or 1000 kilograms or more, the penalty increases to 10 years – life in prison and a fine of $4-$10 Million.

It is recommended not to possess or cultivate large amounts of marijuana even if such possession or cultivation is within the California or other state law guidelines.   Many legal experts advise never to possess, sell or transport 100 or more mature marijuana plants or 100 or more kilograms of marijuana as many judges will impose a minimum sentence of 5 years in federal prison even on a first time violation.    Given the technical nature of the federal marijuana laws it is always advisable to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney when charged with any drug possession charges.

Importance of Getting Sound Legal Advice from A Quality Criminal Defense Lawyer When Facing Marijuana Charges 

Although many states including California have legalized the possession of marijuana for medical reasons, the laws are complex and the enforcement of Federal marijuana cases by the DEA has made it very important to be aware of both federal and state marijuana laws especially if you work at and or run a marijuana collective in California or any other state.    The fight to legalize marijuana is ongoing and the laws have progressed toward complete legalization but the fact is that the possession of marijuana is still illegal under Federal law and under many instances under state law as well including California.   As such, when you are arrested and or charged with a marijuana offense in California or any other state under state law or federal law, you should immediately consult with an experienced attorney to learn you rights.   

It is probably safe to say that if you are caught with less than an ounce of Marijuana leaving Colorado into another state including California, you will not be prosecuted by a federal agency but will be subject to the law of the state where you are arrested so you should immediately contact a local criminal defense lawyer when arrested.

Additional Resources:

Transporting or Giving Away Marijuana – Not More Than 28.5 Grams