Many people applauded when the legislature “decriminalized” the offense of possession of marijuana that is one ounce or less. The new section changes possession of an ounce or less of marijuana from a criminal offense to a civil infraction and an offender receives a civil citation. For adults, this offense is now punishable by a $100.00 fine and forfeiture of the substance. However, if a person is under eighteen years old he or she must complete a drug awareness program. This program requires of a minimum of four hours classroom instruction or group discussion and ten hours of community service. A certificate of completion of the program must be filed with the Clerk of the local district court within one year of the offense or the offender may face higher fines and possibility a criminal charge. Furthermore, being charged with possession of marijuana can still be problematic and sometimes have legal consequences.
For example, it appears that many teenagers are looking at this offense as a “free pass” to smoke marijuana and drive — it is not. If an individual is “high” and driving he or she can still face charges of driving under the influence of drugs. Furthermore, even if someone is in possession of an ounce or less of the substance admitting that he or she shared a “joint” with a friend or gave some of the product to another can result in being charged with distribution of marijuana. Informing the police that he or she intended to share the drug can result in charges of possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. In the event that a search is conducted and scales, baggies, a large amount of money, razor blades and/or mirrors [items often used to package contraband for distribution] are found when an ounce or less is involved, the police will likely charge those involved with possession with intent to distribute marijuana. Make no mistake about it — these are serious criminal charges that carry the potential for jail sentences, license loss and have life altering consequences. If you are in the unfortunate position of being charged with distribution or intent to distribute marijuana within 1000 feet of a school zone you face the possibility of a mandatory minimum of two years in jail. Furthermore, if you are on probation and being drug tested, testing positive for marijuana may be a violation of your probation. Make sure you and your teenagers understand the pitfalls people have been facing by underestimating the teeth in this recent legislation.