Interviewer: What are the most common charges surrounding illegal drugs? Is it possession only, or drug dealing?
Stuart Austin: Usually, it’s possession and/or sale. Somebody who’s supporting his or her own habit usually makes the sales. Sometimes it’s by somebody who is just doing it for the money. I would say probably more than 3/4 of the time, somebody who has a habit may buy some and sell a little bit of his or hers, or who was buying it to support his next high for himself.
Possible Penalties for Drug-Related Crimes
Interviewer: What are people facing for simple possession of marijuana versus cocaine versus other drugs? What are the possible penalties they’ll be facing?
Stuart Austin: It all depends on the amount. Let’s say for a small amount of marijuana, the odds of somebody going to jail are almost zero. It’s really more about what their criminal record may look like, or their employment record showing up with a possession.
That same person with regards to possessing cocaine, Oxycodone, or one of the other drugs could be looking at a year in jail, probably not, but it’s probably much more likely to get probation or a small jail sentence. The difference between a marijuana possession and a cocaine or Oxycodone possession are really, really very different.
For example, somebody who was possessing marijuana in a small amount, their maximum sentence with a controlled substance, given certain circumstances, is probably 15 days in jail and they’ll never see that. With the same possession for Oxycodone or cocaine, the maximum sentence is 1 year. They may not see that either, but that just shows the discrepancy.
How Does Quantity Factor Into Penalties for Drug-Related Offenses?
Interviewer: How about amounts of possession? For pills, it’s easy; it’s X number of pills. What are the levels of penalties if you don’t have a legal prescription for medication where possession will get you not much of a punishment versus a more severe punishment?
Stuart Austin: Unfortunately, the difference for cocaine, I guess, would be the first one, is 500 milligrams is what they use, and that’s done as an aggregate weight and not a pure weight. A lot of the times it is mixed with whatever they use to cut it with, which could be something as simple as baking powder or it could be something more ingenious. The difference is when it’s all weighed together, that’s the amount; it’s not just the pure substance of the drug that you have.
We’ve had a number of clients who, in essence, have a very tiny little bit of drugs mixed in with a lot of inert substance. They didn’t know that, they just bought whatever they had, and when it was tested, because it weighs so much by itself, it becomes felony weight, over 500 milligrams, and the sentencing goes up from 1 year to somewhere in the range of 7 years, or 4 years depending on how much it really is.
Quantity Becomes Less of a Factor With Controlled Substances
Interviewer: What about for pills? Does having possession of just one pill can get you in a lot of trouble, or does the quantity have to be 3, 5, or 10 pills?
Stuart Austin: Any amount, meaning just 1 pill itself, that you don’t have a prescription for and is a controlled substance, that charge becomes a misdemeanor. That’s what we were talking about before, where their maximum’s 1 year, but in most cases, you’d end up with probation or even something minor, just a fine or something like, that if you’re a first time offender, hopefully. Again, it’s the conviction that we try to seal, in essence, so a drug conviction doesn’t affect somebody later on in his or her career.
Your Location When You Are in Possession of Marijuana Is a Factor
Interviewer: How about for marijuana that’s leafy instead of ground up into small pieces. Does it go by the ounce? What are the amounts there?
Stuart Austin: You’re right. It does go by the ounces. Again, you’re right, because it’s a leafy substance, usually, it’s not so heavy, like Oxycodone pills or even crack cocaine, and cocaine; those are very heavy substances.
Marijuana, because it is a lighter substance, in essence, to get up to the misdemeanor weights and the more heavy felony weights you’d have to have a very large amount of it and usually for sale, not just straight possession.
Most people who just have a little bit of possession for personal use will never even see the misdemeanor category. Being it’s a violation, the difference is if it becomes out in public, and it’s burning in public or it’s the public view, then it elevates it from a violation.