Marijuana Possession – Baton Rouge, LA
Marijuana is a very popular recreational drug, and the penalties have recently been reduced (Act 195, 2015 Regular Session)(1), but it’s still illegal under Louisiana and United States law. Possession of marijuana, even small quantities for personal use, is a crime, and the penalties can be increased for multiple convictions.
Marijuana (Natural and Synthetic) in Louisiana
Medical marijuana was approved for use in Louisiana in 2016 for the following conditions:
- cachexia or wasting syndrome
- seizure disorders, or severe and persistent muscle spasms, including those characteristic of multiple sclerosis or Crohn’s disease.
Although some states have expansive definitions of medical marijuana usage, Louisiana is not one of them (and the Federal government still shuts down medical marijuana dispensaries on occasion). The marijuana must be prescribed, the condition must be chronic, severe, debilitating, and/or life-threatening, and the cultivation of marijuana for medical use is strictly limited and licensed.
Synthetic marijuana, also called mojo or spice, and sold under various names, such as “K2,” is a class of drugs which are supposed to duplicate the effects of marijuana. The DEA first put synthetic marijuana on the schedule list of the Controlled Substances Act (21 USC 840, and following) in 2011, and State legislatures followed its lead soon thereafter.
Synthetic marijuana is generally punished more harshly than natural marijuana, presumably because of adverse health effects. (2) Synthetic marijuana is made in outlaw laboratories with no required quality control. The chemists are constantly tweaking the solutions to avoid being on the banned list, but the effects on users are unknown until they ingest it.
Marijuana for Personal Use
First offense possession of marijuana for personal use, less than 14 grams (1/2 Ounce), under Louisiana Revised Statutes Title 40, Section 966(E), may be punished by up to 15 days in prison, a fine of up to $300.00, or both. Possession of more than 14 grams (1/2 Ounce), for personal use, may be punished by up to 6 months in prison, a fine of up to $1,000.00, or both (plus court costs, etc.).
A second offense, within two years of the first, may be punished by up to 6 months in prison, a fine of up to $500.00, or both. In addition, the Court will typically charge some sort of court costs, in addition to any fines, and may require drug testing, probation, classes, and/or substance abuse evaluation as part of the sentence.
A third conviction for possession of marijuana for personal use, of any quantity, is a felony, punishable by up to two years in prison, a fine of up to $2,500.00, or both. A felony conviction bars the person from
- owning firearms or ammunition,
- holding many forms of public office,
- serving on a jury,
- and a variety of other status-related penalties.
A fourth or subsequent offense for possession of marijuana is a felony, punishable by up to eight years in prison, a fine of up to $5,000.00, or both.
First offense possession of synthetic marijuana for personal use is a misdemeanor (La. R.S. 40:966), which may be punished by up to 6 months in prison, a fine of up to $1,000.00, or both (plus court costs, etc.).
Second offense possession of synthetic marijuana for personal use is a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison, a fine of not less than $200.00, nor more than $2,000.00, or both.
A third or subsequent conviction is a felony, punishable by up to twenty years in prison, a fine of not more than $5,000.00, or both. Various court costs and conditions may also be imposed by the Court on any of these penalties.
Possession of Large Quantities of Marijuana, Possession With Intent to Distribute, and Distribution
Distribution of marijuana is not just bales on boats (it is more often sales of small quantities from individual to individual) but all distribution charges (and possession with intent to distribute) are felonies, whether under Louisiana or Federal law. For instance, production, manufacture, distribution, or possession with intent to produce, manufacture, or distribute marijuana or synthetic marijuana, carries a mandatory minimum five years in prison, and up to thirty years, and a fine of not more than $50,000.00. That includes a grow light in a closet with a growing plant, or a relatively small quantity–say a few ounces–that’s broken down into small “user quantities” and/or in the presence of drug trafficking equipment, such as scales, money counting machines, weapons, police scanners, etc.
The legislature assumes that if you have more than 2-1/2 pounds of marijuana, whether it’s natural or synthetic, it is no longer for personal use, and it’s a felony charge. For 2-1/2 pounds or more, up to sixty (60) pounds, the penalty is not less than 2 years, nor more than 10 years in prison, and fine of not less than $10,000.00 nor more than $30,000.00, or both. The penalties keep going up from there, including 25-40 years for possession of 10,000 pounds or more. (La. R.S. 40:966(F)(2-4)) However, realistically, by the time you have a couple of pounds of marijuana, it’s probably going to be charged as Possession With Intent to Distribute (PWID), rather than simple possession.
What Should You Do If You’ve Been Busted With Marijuana?
Don’t fight the police, and don’t lie to the police (especially Federal agents), but don’t admit anything beyond your identity. If any permission to search is requested, refuse to give permission. If the officers or agents want to perform any tests, ask if it’s voluntary. If it is voluntary, refuse to engage in testing. Immediately declare that you will not answer questions without an attorney present. They may threaten to take you to jail, and they may promise to let you go if you cooperate, but law enforcement is allowed to lie to you, so be polite, uncooperative, and call an attorney immediately.
An experienced and knowledgeable defense attorney, such as Joseph K. Scott, III, has handled drug cases large and small in city, state, and federal court. Joseph Scott is also a former prosecutor (3), who understands the methods and means of law enforcement, and the habits of prosecutors. Each case and client is different, and requires a different approach. First offenders and young people may qualify for pretrial diversion or deferred dispositions, where the accused can get a dismissal by paying fees, going to class, and staying drug free for a specified period of time. Every case needs review and research, because sometimes the answer is a motion to suppress, a motion in limine, or other motion to limit the prosecution’s case, to force dismissal or a superior plea arrangement. Some cases are better suited for trial, whether to a judge or jury, and some are a matter of trying to negotiate the best possible plea bargain. If you’re in a tight spot with marijuana charges, call Joseph Scott today!
(2) See FBI bulletin on synthetic marijuana, 2012, https://leb.fbi.gov/2012/may/synthetic-marijuana
(3) Baton Rouge City Court, Assistant City Prosecutor, 2013-2017.