Marijuana, a.k.a. weed, is reported to be the most commonly used drug in America. Government reports suggest that over 80 million Americans have tried marijuana.1 Fourteen state governments decriminalized marijuana so that possession of a small quantity would only be punished as an infraction. Although some states have decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana, those laws have no effect on federal lands. That means you can still be charged with a crime if you are in possession of marijuana in a federal park.
Recent Cases of Marijuana Possession in Federal Parks
According to an Associated Press analysis of federal court data, approximately 27,700 people have been issued citations on federal lands for possession of marijuana since 2009.2 This past summer, a woman was traveling to Olympic National Park located in the state of Washington to go on a hike. On her trip she was carrying two grams of marijuana because recreational usage of marijuana was legalized in the state of Washington. She was pulled over in Olympic National Park for having a broken taillight and was subsequently cited for having marijuana in her possession.
Another woman was in a secluded campsite at Olympic National Park when she was cited for being in possession for marijuana. The park ranger approached the woman to make sure her dog was on a leash when he saw an empty pipe on the picnic table. Although the woman had a prescription for the drug, the park ranger still gave her a citation for marijuana possession.
In a recent article published by the Rawstory.com, it has been reported that there have been more arrests for marijuana possession in Yosemite National Park than any other activity in the national park.3 According to Yosemite’s Annual Law Enforcement Reports, there have been 2,393 arrests for illegal drug use from 2010 to 2012.4 This number also includes arrests for hallucinogenic mushrooms and ecstasy.
What are the Penalties of a Conviction for Possession of Marijuana in a Federal Park?
Marijuana is classified as a controlled substance under United States Code Section 844, even though it is decriminalized in fourteen states.5 In California, marijuana is legal for medical use.6 Although it is legal for medical use in California, possession of marijuana in federal parks is a violation of 21 U.S.C.A. §844.
One of the key factors that will affect the outcome of your case if you are charged with this federal offense is whether you have violated the possession law before. According to 21 U.S.C.A. §844, first time offenders may serve time in jail for no more than one year or be fined a minimum of $1,000, or both. According to Cal NORML, a non-profit organization, National Park rangers were fining violators in federal parks located in California up to $350 if they did not have a medical marijuana card. If they had a card the fine was dropped to $150.
If this is your second offense for possession then the penalties increase. Consequences for second violations include going to jail for at least 15 days, but not more than two years. Furthermore, you will have to pay a minimum fine of $2,500.
If this if your third offense for possession then the penalties increase even further. Consequences for three or more violations include going to jail for at least 90 days, but not more than three years. You will also have to pay a minimum fine of $5,000.
Along with possible jail time and payment of a fine, the court may also impose mandatory drug testing, drug awareness classes, probation and/or electronic monitoring. If possession of marijuana was associated with an attempt to sell or some other criminal activity, the penalties against you will become harsher. In addition, the charge may be upgraded to a felony.
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5. [21 U.S.C.A. §844.]↩
6. [Cal. Health and Safety Code § 11362.5]↩