There has been wide-spread media attention given to laws passed in some states, including Arizona, pertaining marijuana use and possession. Is Marijuana Legal In Arizona? It is easy to be misled into believing that possessing a small quantity of marijuana for personal use in Phoenix is now legal. Before you get into trouble, read a little further to learn the truth about the marijuana laws.
Arizona law enforcement remains active
The American Civil Liberties Union found that marijuana possession charges accounted for 56 percent of the drug arrests in Arizona. The same report revealed that of all marijuana law violations in the state, more than 90 percent of them were for possession.
The truth is that Arizona has some of the toughest drug laws in the United States with possession of even a small amount of marijuana being classified as a felony. Although the state allows the use of medical marijuana under the care of a licensed physician and under a program administered by the Arizona Department of Health Services, penalties for violating marijuana laws are severe.
Harsh laws and severe penalties for marijuana use and possession
As a Schedule I controlled substance under the federal Control Substances Act, marijuana is in the same category as heroin as far as being a dangerous drug. Keep in mind that Arizona bases its current marijuana laws on the federal schedules.
Schedule I controlled substances are classified as such because they:
- Possesses a high potential for abuse
- Have no medical use recognized in the U.S.
- Cannot safely be used without risk of abuse even under medical supervision
Possession of up to two pounds of marijuana is a felony. Prosecutors have discretion to charge a person with simple possession as a misdemeanor instead of a felony depending upon the circumstances of the arrest.
Essentially, if police believe the marijuana was in your possession for your own use they can be lenient as far as the charges, but if they believe your intent was to distribute it, then you can be charged with a felony. First and second offenses for simple possession will usually result in probation or a drug diversion program and 24 hours of community service instead of jail time unless there are other, more serious charges.
Possession of marijuana that is not charged as a misdemeanor and is not a first or second offense is subject to harsher penalties. For example:
- Possession of up to less than two pounds may be charged as a felony with a minimum sentence of four months in jail up to two years in prison and a minimum fine of $1,000.
- Possession of from two pounds up to less than four pounds is a felony punishable by six months in jail up to a maximum of 2.5 years in prison. Fines range from $1,000 up to the value of the drug proceeds.
- Possession of four pounds or more of marijuana is punishable as a felony with a minimum sentence of one year with a maximum of four years in prison. Fines can go as high as $150,000.
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Slightly relaxing the marijuana penalties
Possession of less than two pounds of marijuana that is for personal use is not legal in Arizona. By reducing the punishment from mandatory imprisonment to diversion programs or probation, you should not be lulled into thinking that the state officials have called off the war on drugs.
Probation or a drug diversion program may include mandatory substance abuse treatment. It may also include periodic drug testing. Failing a drug test or violating any of the conditions of probation or the program can result in your case being sent back to court for resentencing as a violation of probation or for violating the conditions of the diversion program.
Medical use of marijuana in Arizona
The Arizona Medical Marijuana Act title regulates the possession, use and distribution of medical marijuana through the Arizona Department of Health Services. Among other things, the law requires that physicians licensed in the state must also be certified to prescribe marijuana to qualifying patients.
You must be classified as a qualifying patient within the definition of the state’s law in or to purchase, possess and use marijuana. A qualifying patient is someone who is registered with the Arizona Department of Health Services and meets the criteria for issuance of a registry identification card. The primary criteria include:
- Diagnosis and certification by a physician licensed in Arizona and certified as a marijuana doctor by the state
- Diagnosis of a qualifying medical condition such as cancer, glaucoma, Lou Gehrig’s Disease or any of the diseases or medical conditions listed by the state
- Payment of the qualifying patient fee of $150
In recognition of the fact that possession of marijuana is still classified as a crime under state and federal law, a person who cares for a qualifying patient must be registered with the state as a designated caregiver. Designated caregivers are allowed to purchase and possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana. Designated caregivers and qualifying patients may possess up to 12 marijuana plants as long as authorization to do so has been granted by the state.
Medical use of marijuana is a privilege granted with several restrictions. Besides the registration requirement through the department of health services, other restrictions include:
- Smoking in public places is prohibited
- Only edible marijuana may be consumed in a public place
- Qualifying patients may still be prosecuted for DUI if they are caught driving
- Marijuana must be purchased through a dispensary licensed by the state
Complex laws require knowledgeable and skilled legal counsel
Unless and until the laws are changed, marijuana use and possession for recreational purposes continues as a serious criminal offense that severe consequences. If you are facing drug possession charges , you need an attorney who understands the drug laws in Arizona and will be aggressive in defending your rights.
A drug defense attorney can also be a source of information about the complex regulations pertaining to eligibility under the Medical Marijuana Act. Whether you are charged with a crime or need assistance about the state’s drug laws, make an appointment for a case evaluation or consultation with a Phoenix criminal defense attorney.