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marijuana possession arizona

Marijuana Possession & Paraphernalia

One of the most common crimes we see here, especially for students and young professionals, is marijuana possession coupled with a “ drug paraphernalia” charge. Although both are technically felonies in Arizona (A.R.S. § 13-3405(A)(1) &(B)(1) [class six felony if under “two pounds” (A.R.S. § 13-3415;], police often charge them jointly as misdemeanors. The University of Arizona routinely kicks students out of the dorm for these violations, and sometimes books students into the County jail. A variety of licensed or regulated professionals, and low-level workers can lose or be ineligible for many jobs.

Possession of Marijuana Drug Paraphernalia
(A.R.S. 13-3415)

We see a plethora of cases where the “baggy” or the “tin foil” is the only “paraphernalia” charged. That’s because literally anything used to “store” or “ingest” marijuana can qualify as “paraphernalia” in Arizona (“chillums” are specifically prohibited [See ARS § 13-3418(F)(2)(xi)] along with “bongs” “roach clips” “blenders” and “electric pipes”.) The police like to issue “paraphernalia” as an extra add-on charge to give the prosecutor leverage. And it’s sometimes the paraphernalia charge, not the marijuana that causes the problem down the line, as you will see below.

Consequence of Marijuana Possession in Arizona

  • Fingerprint Clearance Card Holders
  • Licensed Healthcare Professionals
  • Students
  • Immigrants

Marijuana Arrests & Fingerprint Clearance Card Holders

In Arizona, thousands and thousands of educational, childcare, nursing home and healthcare workers, students and volunteers, all hold mandatory Arizona “fingerprint clearance” cards. This also includes many unwitting college students enrolled in clinical programs such as nursing. What is surprising is how easy it is to lose a fingerprint clearance card.

In Arizona, a misdemeanor marijuana arrest results in automatic suspension of both Level 1 Fingerprint Clearance (ARS §41-1758.07) and Standard Clearance (ARS §41-1758.03). Even if you’re not taken to jail, the ticket you received counts as an “arrest.” What’s more a conviction for simple misdemeanor marijuana possession results in revocation of fingerprint clearance cards. Thus, even a ticket for misdemeanor marijuana possession can, by itself, result in loss of a fingerprint clearance card, even if you win your criminal case.

Marijuana Possession & Licensed Healthcare Professionals

In Arizona, licensed health care providers include not just doctors and nurses; dentists and podiatrists; marriage counselors and opticians; but also a myriad of other workers ranging from athletic trainers to veterinary technicians. See ARS § 32-3208 & 3201. The first thing to understand is if you or your son or daughter works in or plans to work in a covered Arizona licensed health care profession.

Reporting Requirement

In Arizona, all licensed healthcare professionals are required to report within “10 working days” any arrest (including a citation or ticket) for any misdemeanor involving conduct “that may affect patient safety.” See ARS § 32-3208. Failure to timely report is a separate ground for discipline or denial of application for a health care license. See Id.

Marijuana vs. Paraphernalia Charges & Health Care Boards

While most individual Arizona healthcare boards do not provide a specific list of reportable misdemeanors on their websites or in their rules, the ones that do seem to explicitly and uniformly provide that drug paraphernalia charges are reportable, although they do not explicitly list misdemeanor marijuana possession. See e.g. Arizona Board of Medical Examiners “Reportable Misdemeanors” web page. But we counsel caution in purposely failing to report any misdemeanor offense, including marijuana possession.

Conviction & Suspension of Health Care License

Although we have never seen anyone yet lose a health care license solely for a single isolated misdemeanor marijuana conviction, most individual Boards uniformly consider “use” of marijuana or any drug “in violation of any federal state criminal law,” a sanctionable and suspendable offense. See e.g., Arizona Arizona Administrative Code R4-19-404 (Board of Nursing); see also our Arizona Health Care Licensing Boards Reportable Misdemeanors Chart; and our Arizona Health Care Licensing Boards Criminal Convictions Suspension Chart . Thus, in our view you must assume that Arizona Health Care licensing boards expect you to report, and will investigate and impose some form of sanction for misdemeanor paraphernalia and simple marijuana possession charges.

Marijuana Possession and Students
School Discipline & Enforcement Policies

We’ve had many many cases lately where University of Arizona students are caught in their dorm rooms with marijuana and various paraphernalia. The University police investigate and charge aggressively, part of a so-called “Zero Tolerance” policy, often conducting intrusive room searches, and then booking students into the County Jail, and of course referring the matter to the Dean of Students for eviction and discipline, as well charging them criminally. What seems like typical youthful a faux pas can create unforeseen problems.

Out-of-state parents who have paid considerable tuition, only to find their son or daughter calling them from the Pima County jail, call us often. And we spend a lot of time explaining to them the procedures, both at criminal court and at the Dean of Students office. Many times these cases wind up in a diversion program.

What is Diversion?

For many first time misdemeanor marijuana possession charges, especially students, the prosecutors offer a seemingly simple way to get the case dismissed: if the defendant is willing to take some prescribed drug or alcohol education classes, upon successful completion the prosecutor will move to dismiss the case with prejudice. This is a method of “diverting” the defendant from the criminal justice system. And it is generally a good thing, but diversion is fraught with hidden traps.

First, most court diversion programs require a “conditional guilty plea” at the outset. This is like jumping off a small cliff with a parachute. It means you have to actually plead guilty in open court; and the judge figuratively puts the plea in her file. If you successfully complete the diversion program, the judge figuratively tears the plea up, and literally enters a dismissal order.

If, however you fail to complete the diversion program to the prosecutor’s liking—i.e., you miss a class or fail a drug test, the judge simply sentences you as if you had straight up pled guilty. And note that prosecutors, not judges, control those programs. We’ve had too many clients who wash out of these seemingly good diversion programs and wind up with permanent criminal records.

Second, for some people the “conditional guilty plea” is the same as a conviction. This applies especially to immigrants, and to those who an admission on the record to the crime can be used against them later. See below.

Immigration & Misdemeanor Marijuana Conviction

Immigration law makes any drug conviction, including misdemeanor marijuana, a deportable offense. Although a single misdemeanor marijuana possessory conviction for under 30 grams may not result in deportation because a special “waiver” is available (See INA §212(a)(2)(A)(I)(II) & (h) I, this is not guaranteed. There are several important things to consider.

First, it is important to understand that for immigrants post-plea diversion is tantamount to a conviction. This is because the immigration code broadly defines “conviction”: it includes any admission to the material elements of the offense coupled with some form of punishment. It particularly includes all diversion programs that require a conditional guilty plea, even if the case is dismissed.

Second, while a person may not be deported for a small amount of marijuana, they may be unable, nevertheless to become a citizen, obtain a visa or green card, or reenter the United States after they physically leave. Again, although a special “waiver” should be available for a first offense, it creates problems down the line far beyond deportation.

Third, while §212(h) “waivers” are also available for paraphernalia convictions, if “related to” simple possession marijuana of 30 grams or less, paraphernalia creates problems. In some cases, unfortunately, a plea, or diversion agreement for paraphernalia, as opposed to marijuana, is no help at all. In our experience, it can be ironically the “baggy” that gets you deported, not the “bud.”

An arrest for marijuana possession can have severe consequences for your future or career. Find out what consequences will effect you the most and find an experienced attorney.

Possession of Marijuana Laws in Arizona

Possession of marijuana is one of the most common cases we handle at JacksonWhite Law.

In Arizona, the laws on possession are clear: A.R.S. § 13-3405(A)(1) states that you cannot “knowingly possess or use marijuana.”

The only exception is when it’s legally prescribed for medical conditions, which went into effect in 2010 with the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act.

A.R.S. § 13-3405 also states that you cannot produce, transport, transfer or sell marijuana, which would all fall under possession.

So unless you’ve been lawfully prescribed medical marijuana in Arizona, possessing any “usable” amount of weed is considered a crime.

What You Need to Know

If you’re facing charges related to marijuana possession or use, it’s important to know several key facts about this offense, including:

  • potential penalties and punishments
  • possible defenses for your case
  • frequently asked questions
  • what to do if you’re facing possession charges

Below, we’ll cover everything you need to know if you’re being charged with possession of marijuana. If you need help with your case, we offer free initial consultations with one of our experienced Mesa criminal defense attorneys.

Click the button below or call us at (480) 467-4370 to get your free case review. You can also view our results and successes from past marijuana possession clients.

Arizona Marijuana Laws & Penalties

There are essentially four laws that govern the use and possession of marijuana in Arizona. They state that marijuana cannot be:

  • Used or possessed
  • Possessed in order to sell
  • Produced
  • Transported within, or imported into, Arizona

The penalties for marijuana possession are determined by several factors, including the weight of the marijuana possessed.

Penalties & Punishments

The statutes divide penalties into three categories:

  • under two pounds
  • two to four pounds
  • over four pounds

So how much weed is a felony in Arizona?

As it stands, any amount can be a felony charge, and the felony class depends on the circumstances of your case.

Possession of under two pounds of marijuana can be a:

  • Class 6 felony if it’s found to be for personal use
  • Class 4 felony if it’s for sale
  • Class 5 felony if it was personally produced
  • Class 3 felony if it’s transported or imported into Arizona

Possession of two to four pounds of marijuana can be a:

  • Class 5 felony if it’s for personal use
  • Class 3 felony if it’s for sale
  • Class 4 felony if it was personally produced
  • Class 2 felony if it’s transported or imported into Arizona

Possession of four or more pounds of marijuana can be a:

  • Class 4 felony if it’s for personal use
  • Class 2 felony if it’s for sale
  • Class 3 felony if it was personally produced
  • Class 2 felony if it’s transported or imported into Arizona

Fortunately, marijuana possession drug offenses can often be reduced to a class 1 misdemeanor with the help of an effective criminal lawyer.

Additionally, you may be able to attend a diversion or education program, and if completed, you may have the charge dismissed altogether.

When you participate in a diversion drug, you’ll typically have to submit to drug tests to ensure that you don’t continue to use marijuana.

Once the program is completed successfully, you have the opportunity to have the charge dismissed.

Arizona Proposition 200 prohibits first- and second-time nonviolent drug offenders being sentenced to jail time, which means that you may only face incarceration after three convictions.

If there are other charges involved, however, this will affect your sentence and potential incarceration time.

In addition to a diversion program, you’ll likely be placed on probation, which has similar terms of sobriety as the program you enter.

You may be required to also pay fees and surcharges, or complete community service hours as assigned by the court.

One of the most common diversion programs is known as TASC, which is run by the Maricopa County Attorney’s office.

TASC – short for Treatment Assessment Screening Centers – is a nonprofit that provides drug testing to first-time offenders as part of a larger diversion program.

If this option is available to you, it may incur additional expenses.

Possible Defenses for Possession of Marijuana in Arizona

There are a number of possible defenses against marijuana possession charges in Arizona, many of which may result in the charges against you being dropped or dismissed.

Unknowing Possession

The most popular defense against drug-related charges is that you didn’t knowingly possess the drugs in question. This is difficult (though not impossible) to argue when the drugs are in your pocket, but it’s an excellent defense when drugs are found in your vehicle or residence.

Not Possessing a Usable Amount

Arizona’s marijuana laws require a “usable amount” of marijuana in order to charge with possession. If you’re caught with a limited amount of marijuana, your attorney may argue that the amount is small enough that it doesn’t qualify as a “usable amount.”

In cases where the “unknowing possession” and “usable amount” defenses aren’t feasible, the defense strategy often shifts to arguing that your rights were infringed or denied when you were arrested.

Rights Were Infringed or Denied

An officer’s failure to recite your rights at the time of arrest is a Miranda rights violation. Even if you confessed or acknowledged possession of marijiuana, a Miranda rights violation could result in the charges against you being dropped or dismissed.

Similarly, arrested individuals who are denied an attorney may argue to have the charges against them dropped or dismissed due to denial of their right to counsel. Like Miranda rights violations, this is especially significant if you provided the police with incriminating information during interrogation.

Valid Medical Marijuana License

Of course, the easiest defense against marijuana possession charges is that you have a valid medical marijuana license. Arizona’s Medical Marijuana Act allows patients to possess or use up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana every 14 days, so as long as you’re within those limits you cannot be charged with possession of marijuana or drug paraphernalia.

Other Factors to Consider

While Arizona law states there must be a “usable amount” of marijuana present in order to be charged with possession, the same law does not apply to drug paraphernalia.

If your possession charge also included a paraphernalia charge, but the object in question doesn’t have any usable amount of marijuana, you can still be charged with paraphernalia possession.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is weed a felony in Arizona?

According to ARS 13-3405, all instances of possession of marijuana in Arizona are technically considered a felony, even when the case involves only a small amount of weed.

However, the right legal defense can result in having your charge reduced to a misdemeanor, which can significantly improve your future outlook when it comes to employment, education, housing and the like.

What happens if you get caught with weed in Arizona?

When you’re caught with marijuana in Arizona, you’ll face possession of marijuana charges as outlined by ARS 13-3405.

Although these statutes are very clear in what constitutes possession of marijuana, you’ll have a range of outcomes depending on how you decide to move forward.

Working with an experienced marijuana attorney can help you explore the most options, and in many cases you can have your charges reduced or dismissed.

To learn more about your specific situation and what will happen if you’re convicted, call us today to get a free case review.

How much marijuana can you legally have in Arizona?

If you have a medical marijuana card, you can use or store up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana every 14 days.

If you do not have a card, any amount of marijuana is considered illegal. As mentioned, the penalties for illegal possession are based on weight, so anything under two pounds is considered less serious than possessing 2-4 pounds or more than 4 pounds at a time.

To be charged with possession, there must be a “usable” amount of weed present,

Can you go to jail for marijuana possession in Arizona?

As mentioned, Arizona Proposition 200 allows first- and second-time nonviolent offenders to avoid jail time when faced with a possession of marijuana conviction.

Although the consequences of these types of convictions are still strict, the proposition allows offenders to focus on rehabilitation and improvement rather than facing immediate jail time.

To learn more about jail time, sentences and potential consequences, call us to schedule a free case review with one of our experienced drug attorneys.

What to Do If You’re Facing Charges

If you’ve been charged with marijuana possession in Arizona, a resourceful defense can work to get your charges reduced or even dismissed. At JacksonWhite Law, we have decades of experience with all types of drug crimes, and have secured successful case results for thousands of marijuana possession clients. You can learn more about our Mesa drug defense attorneys and how we’ve helped thousands of drug defense clients over the years.

We’ve helped first-time offenders and those with previous charges handle the complex legal process with ease. To see how we can help you next, contact us now.

Call the JacksonWhite Criminal Law team at (480) 467-4370 to discuss your case today.

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Learn more about marijuana possession laws in Arizona, and discover the #1 thing you need to do if you're facing marijuana related charges.