The possession of marijuana (also referred to as cannabis) in the State of Florida is a criminal offense. Marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance and the State typically enforces harsh penalties for its possession. If you are charged with possession of marijuana, it is imperative to seek help from a lawyer who practices in drug crime defense. The penalties for possession, no matter how little or how much, can be severe and potentially life-altering. An experienced lawyer can consider your case from every angle and craft a defense that can lead either to dismissal of your case or much more agreeable consequences than if you acted alone.
WHAT IS POSSESSION?
Florida Statutes provide that “[a] person may not be in actual or constructive possession of a controlled substance unless” it is prescribed. F.S. 893.13(6)(a). When it comes to “active” possession, the State must prove the marijuana was in your hand or within easy reach and in your exclusive control when you were caught. Otherwise, the State may try to convict you on a charge of constructive possession. In order to prove a charge of possession, the State must successfully show:
- There is a substance in your control or possession;
- You had knowledge of the control or possession of that substance; and
- The substance is a controlled substance
These elements come into play in a number of ways. For example, if a suspect is caught with marijuana in his or her vehicle, and the suspect is the only one who owns and was operating the vehicle, then elements 1 or 3 may be difficult to dispute. However, proving the suspect had knowledge of the marijuana (element 2) could be a different matter; after all, the suspect’s friend could have left the substance in the vehicle unbeknownst to the suspect.
If the State pursues a charge of possession, you may be charged with simple possession or possession with intent to distribute.
Simple Possession of Marijuana refers to the possession of marijuana for personal use. If the quantity of marijuana is 20 grams or less, then the crime is a first degree misdemeanor. However, if the amount is more than 20 grams, it becomes a felony, which comes with harsher penalties.
Possession with Intent to Distribute
Possession with intent to distribute refers to the possession of marijuana for the purpose of selling, manufacturing, etc. This is a more serious charge than simple possession and is automatically a third felony. How law enforcement determines whether possession of marijuana is for personal use or for distribution depends on multiple factors, such as:
- The suspect’s statements
- The quantity of marijuana in the suspect’s possession
- The packaging of the marijuana (e.g. marijuana being divvied up in small plastic bags may be an indicator of an intent to distribute)
The State of Florida enforces heavy punishments for possession of marijuana. 20 is the magic number when it comes to this offense: simple possession of 20 grams or less of marijuana is a first degree misdemeanor, with a maximum penalty of 1 year in prison and a fine of $1,000. Additionally, your driver’s license will be suspended for 2 years. Possessing more than 20 grams of marijuana is a third degree felony, punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a $5,000 fine. Possession with Intent to Distribute as well as Trafficking in Marijuana are also third degree felonies. The State of Florida reserves even more severe punishments if one engages in trafficking more than 25 pounds of marijuana.
Please keep in mind these are the maximum penalties. A growing practice in some parts of Florida is the Pretrial Diversion program. With this option, the court withholds adjudication of the case so long as the defendant meets certain obligations, such as attending rehab classes or performing community service. The court may also forego the option of jail and instead sentence someone guilty of possession to probation, community service, or another alternative.
Being sentenced doesn’t end there, however. Being found guilty of possession of marijuana can have other detrimental effects on your life as well:
- Drug charges may render you ineligible for financial aid in college
- Your eligibility for government programs may be adversely affected
- Your chances of employment or acceptance to an educational institution may be impacted
- Your driver’s license will be suspended for two years
With the multitude of ways a charge of possession of marijuana can adversely impact your life, it is important that you receive competent service from an experienced lawyer. There are many legal defenses a lawyer can employ to help your case or even have it dismissed, including:
- If law enforcement’s actions violated your right to freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures, then the evidence law enforcement finds in an illegal search cannot be used against you in court
- The State has insufficient evidence you had knowledge that the substance was in your control or possession
- In an undercover case, law enforcement may have engaged in entrapment (i.e. persuaded you against your original predisposition to commit a criminal offense)