You’ve been charged with a marijuana offense
I am a defense attorney and help people charged with marijuana possession charges in Wyoming, Idaho and the National Parks. If you have been charged with a marijuana offense in Yellowstone or Grand Teton National Parks, check out my guide: Understanding Your Federal Charge For Possession Of A Controlled Substance In A National Park.
If you have been charged in Teton County, or the Town of Jackson, the guide is less relevant. You are under different laws. The judge is different. The procedure is different.
Marijuana possession is still a crime?
Absolutely. Attitudes toward marijuana vary across the country. In our neighboring state, Colorado, marijuana is legal. In Wyoming, marijuana is not only illegal, it’s considered a dangerous drug. The laws and expectations here are different.
What are the consequences?
At the state level, a first marijuana possession offense (up to three ounces) is a misdemeanor. See Wyoming Statute § 35-7-1031. It’s punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of $750. In most (not all) of the local jurisdictions, the prosecutors are not seeking jail time. Depending on your circumstances, the prosecutors will make certain offers, and the judge will impose a certain sentence.
A third offense is a felony, and again, depending on your circumstances, the prosecutors will attempt to obtain a felony conviction.
Additionally, a marijuana conviction can affect:
- Your criminal record. A conviction shows up on a background check.
- Your ability to get federal financial aid. Consider: You could lose federal financial aid opportunities for any marijuana use or possession charges, such as Perkins Loans, Pell Grants, Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, PLUS Loans and Work Study programs. This is because Section 484 subsection R of the Higher Education Act of 1998 states that a student with a past conviction of any controlled substance offense (which still includes marijuana) isn’t eligible for any of the above federal financial aid.
- Your ability to get a firearm. If you apply to purchase a firearm, you must complete federal Form 4473, which asks about unlawful marijuana use. Since marijuana is still illegal federally, marijuana users may be rejected from purchasing a firearm. Don’t lie about this, either. Lying on this form is a federal felony with a maximum prison sentence of five years.
- Eligibility for other federal benefits, such as certain housing programs.
- You have to report in on many job applications.
- You have to report on some housing applications.
- Your legal status in this country, if you are not a citizen.
I truly believe that many of these consequences are completely disproportionate to the offense.
What can you do about it?
There are two ways an attorney can help you manage the situation. First, an attorney can help you fight the case. Second, an attorney can help you minimize the consequences.
Fight the case
The police and park rangers don’t always get it right. When they don’t, you can and should fight the case.
In vehicle cases, sometimes they pull you over for no reason (I’ve seen a lot of dash cam footage that made me go: huh?). If they don’t pull you over for a lawful reason, the case should be thrown out. Once they pull you over, there are certain rules they have to follow to expand the scope of the traffic stop. If they jump the gun and seize and search you without a good reason, that violates the Fourth Amendment.
In non-vehicle cases there are similar rules about when, where and how the officers contact you. From there, there are rules that govern what kinds of questions they can ask you and whether they can detain you. It gets complicated.
Minimize the Consequences
The second strategy is to minimize the consequences. Are you eligible for probation and a dismissal (called a deferred adjudication in most Wyoming jurisdictions)? Can you avoid a conviction? Can you keep it off your record? If not, can you minimize the fine? Can you reduce the likelihood of being ordered to do lengthy drug treatment classes? Can you reduce any community service? Can you do any community service for your preferred organization or on your timetable? Can you avoid coming back to Court?
What is the best strategy for me?
It depends. Typically, you start with both. First, you want to get the police report. Your attorney then analyzes the police report and interviews you about what happens. If your attorney finds a reason for the judge to throw the case out, then you go down that road. If not, you move on to minimizing the consequences.
Of course, with any attorney, you are in the driver’s seat. Your attorney’s job is to provide you with:
- legal advice based on his knowledge of the law and
- practical advice based on his knowledge of the Courts and prosecutors; and then
- help you decide the best plan for you based on your personal situation.
That’s what I do.
How I work:
Typically, I do these cases on a fixed fee. You pay one flat fee up front. If we don’t go to trial (and these cases rarely go to trial), then that is the only fee you pay.
If you call me on the phone, we can talk about your case and I will give you a quote. My office is (307) 200-9720. If it’s the weekend, you can call or text my cell, and I’ll answer if I am around: (307) 203-6979. If I am in the backcountry or unavailable, I’ll get back to you.
It’s 2016. I take credit cards. You can sign most things electronically, unless a notarized signature is legally required. You will get copies of all your documents electronically.
If you want to read more, check out a couple different articles of mine:
- Does your medical marijuana card makes a difference in Wyoming? (not really).
- Do you have to come back to Court? (sometimes, it depends).
- How long can the police stop you for a traffic ticket?
- Should you talk to the prosecutor?
- Increase in pot charges in Yellowstone.
- My thoughts on lessons for Wyoming from Colorado’s legalization.
- My first post on marijuana in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.