Marijuana Possession and Sentencing

Currently, 16 states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws allowing medicinal use of marijuana. However, the federal government and a majority of states still make possession of marijuana a crime. However, a growing number of states, including Pennsylvania, are considering bills that will legalize the medicinal use of the drug.

Through the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), the federal government regulates importation, manufacture, distribution, possession, and even the improper use of controlled substances. The Act considers marijuana a Schedule 1 controlled substance, the same as heroin and LSD. Schedule 1 drugs are considered to have no acceptable medical use and the highest potential for abuse.

Through its enforcement authority, the federal government has set mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines for marijuana possession convictions. Sentences are dependent upon the amount of the drug, the form of the drug and any prior convictions. The guidelines give the toughest penalty for possession of over 1,000 kilograms of processed marijuana or 1,000 marijuana plants. For first offenders, the penalty is not less than ten years in prison. While jail time may not be recommended in many first offense cases, a person possessing even one plant could potentially be subject to not more than five years in prison and fines up to $250,000.

Under the Pennsylvania's Controlled Substances, Drugs, Devices and Cosmetics Act, conviction of marijuana possession can result in mandatory minimum fines and imprisonment. First offenders possessing between two and ten pounds or at least ten to 21 live plants of the controlled substance are subject to one year in prison and significant fines. As the number of plants, prior offenses, or pounds of the drug increase so do the penalties. Understandably, subsequent offenses result in higher penalties. A person possessing over 50 pounds or more than 51 plants runs the risk of serving five years in prison and fines in excess of $50,000.

Under federal and Pennsylvania law, medicinal use of marijuana is not a defense to a criminal possession charge. However, as the trend toward medicinal use of the drug becomes stronger, congress as well as some state legislatures may move to legitimize and reclassify the drug to reduce the risk of convictions for simple possession.

Anyone charged with marijuana possession or trafficking should consult an experienced criminal defense lawyer.