Possession and Distribution of Marijuana are Serious Crimes

marijuana-possession-lawsMarijuana is the most commonly abused illegal drug in the United States. Marijuana is a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act, classified as having a high potential for abuse. Street names for marijuana include grass, pot, weed, Mary Jane, dope, indo, and hydro. Marijuana possession laws can impose strict penalties under certain circumstances.

Possession of marijuana (sometimes referred to as simple possession) is the most common drug crime in the United States. Considered a misdemeanor in a majority of states, marijuana possession penalties include fines, probation, and/or community service. Criminal possession of marijuana is the next level up in marijuana possession crimes and consists of possession of marijuana in a public place where it is either burning or in open public view in quantities of more than 2 ounces but less 8 ounces. Criminal possession of marijuana is also a misdemeanor but the consequences increase as does the possibility of jail time.


Technically, under federal drug law, the possession of marijuana, in any amount, is punishable by up to one year in jail and a minimum fine of $1,000 for a first conviction. Further convictions and greater amounts result in much stiffer penalties. Relatively few marijuana possession cases give rise to a felony level crime. Marijuana distribution, however, is always a felony under federal law. The sale of less than 50 kilograms of marijuana (the smallest amount category) is punishable by five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Marijuana production’s principal source is Mexico. The majority of foreign-produced marijuana available in the United States is smuggled into the country from Mexico over the Mexico border by criminal groups. Mexican criminal groups control most wholesale marijuana distribution in the United States, with Asian criminal groups that bring in the product over the Canadian border running a close second. The potency of Canadian marijuana being considered superior to the Mexican version has resulted in an increase in Asian control of marijuana production and distribution. According to the National Drug Threat Assessment 2007, high potency Canada-based smuggling, distribution and production groups are increasing, giving rise to large-scale cannabis cultivation in large outdoor sites by both Mexican and Asian groups. In addition, in an effort to remain competitive in the higher potency marijuana distribution trade, Asian groups have begun operating indoor grow sites in homes throughout the Pacific Northwest and California. The trend is to purchase or rent a house, modify the house for the purpose of producing two to four crops of cannabis and abandoning the property once the crops are harvested.

Marijuana is typically consumed in its organic state, the plant itself used in various ways to produce a hallucinogenic effect on the user. Abuse and use of the cannabis plant as a means for getting high dates back to biblical times. The advent of laws criminalizing the use of the drug occurred sometime during the twentieth century, with battles to legalize the use of marijuana debated ever since, its use among Native Americans in religious ceremonies and the use of the drug by cancer patients to relieve nausea being the most often arguments used for its legalization, and a significant change in the marijuana possession laws.

Challenges to current marijuana production and distribution laws are ongoing, with several states decriminalizing certain marijuana usage for specific medical conditions. However, in United States v. Oakland Cannabis Club, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that marijuana has no medical value as determined by Congress. The court’s opinion stated that: “In the case of the Controlled Substances Act, the statue reflects a determination that marijuana has no medical benefits worthy of an exception outside the confines of government-approved research projects.”

In 2002, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued a ruling that upheld the Drug Enforcement Act’s determination that marijuana should remain a Schedule I controlled substance, the most restrictive schedule under the Controlled Substance Act. The marijuana debate and court battles will undoubtedly continue to occasionally appear in the United States Court system for years to come.

Defenses for those guilty of breaking marijuana possession laws, and distribution of marijuana laws, usually revolve around the misuse of police power to search and seize property. Unlawful search and seizure, unlawful surveillance, and entrapment are the primary means of defending a charge of marijuana possession or marijuana distribution.

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