Federal Narcotics Charges
Most cases of possession of certain illegal drugs, particularly in small quantities are prosecuted by the state or the local jurisdiction where the offense occurred. However, the federal government trumps state or local prosecution if a case arises that they decide to pursue, no matter what quantity of the drug is involved.
Recent referendums have legalized marijuana for recreational use in certain states such as Washington and Colorado but even though there will not be prosecutions by state or local jurisdictions, the federal government can still make arrests. Even in states where marijuana has been legalized for medicinal purposes such as California and New York, a federal arrest warrant can still be served and a federal criminal complaint filed.
In the case of marijuana, the current executive branch of the government (specifically the President) has instructed the Attorney General of the United States not to pursue federal criminal charges of marijuana products that are being openly sold in states that have made it legal by public ballot. However, with less than two years remaining in the current Administration's term, that recommendation may change after the next general election in 2016.
But currently, products made from Cannabis can be sold and possessed in states that have made it legal for medicinal and recreational purposes. The merchants may only sell to persons over twenty one years of age and must have a valid state license to sell their products for recreational purposes in any form, and in the case of medical marijuana the purchaser must have a state issued card which is provided under a doctor's prescription.
However, there are exceptions to the state laws that can still make possession of marijuana a possible federal offense subjecting the carrier of the drug to a federal arrest.
Being stopped by law enforcement while on an interstate highway or when flying in an airplane while possessing legally purchased marijuana can possibly be pursued as a federal crime due to the fact the interstate highway system that connect multiple states together as well as the airspace of the United States both fall under federal jurisdiction. A person travelling on a boat or ship sailing in waters within American legal authority may also be subject to arrest and prosecution for the same reason.
Other drug possession offenses such as small amounts of cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines, to name a few will usually be prosecuted by a local jurisdiction after an arrest, but the feds can still step in if they feel the case deserves governmental consideration.
In cases of trafficking and manufacture of controlled substances, or the possession of large quantities of narcotics, the federal government will usually lead the investigation and any subsequent arrest, trial or plea agreement when a federal criminal complaint is recorded.
Although state and federal drug laws differ significantly in relation to penalties for a conviction, it is important to acknowledge that charges brought forward by the state or a local municipality has a predisposition to be less punitive if a conviction is realized depending on the type of charge and the quantity of the illegal substance.
Small quantities of narcotics that are believed to be possessed for personal use are usually charged as misdemeanors and in most cases will result in a probationary sentence, or at worst a minimal sentence of jail time on a state or local level for first-time offenders.
Federal drug charges are more unyielding and moreover maintain mandatory minimum sentences based on the amount of drug-related convictions an offender has been sentenced to in the past, as well as taking into consideration their overall criminal history in general.
Click here to continue to read "Penalties for a Conviction" for federal drug charges.
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