Federal Marijuana Trafficking

Under 21 U.S.C. §§ 841 and 960, the federal crime of Marijuana Trafficking is committed when a person knowingly or intentionally manufactures, distributes, or dispenses 1000 kilograms or more of marijuana or 1,000 or more marijuana plants.

Conspiracy to Traffic in Marijuana

Conspiracy to traffic in marijuana occurs when two or more people work together to manufacture, distribute, or dispense marijuana unlawfully.

Importantly, conspiracy to traffic in marijuana can, and usually is, charged against minor participants such as a driver, a drug mule, or a street dealer connected to a marijuana distribution network.

The government charges minor participants with Conspiracy to Traffic in Marijuana because under 21 U.S.C. § 846, the penalties for Conspiracy to Traffic in Marijuana are the same as actual Marijuana Trafficking, which results in minor participants cutting deals to testify against major participants in order to avoid the enhanced Marijuana Trafficking penalties.

Penalties for Marijuana Trafficking

Federal law imposes mandatory minimum prison sentences and large fines on people convicted of Marijuana Trafficking. And unless the United States Attorney General agrees to waive the mandatory minimum sentencing requirements, the penalties for Marijuana Trafficking are as follows:

Trafficking in 100 to 999 kilograms of marijuana, or 100 to 999 marijuana plants

Under federal law, the crime of trafficking in 100 to 999 kilograms of marijuana or 100 to 999 marijuana plants is a Class B felony, punishable by five to forty years in prison to be followed by four years of supervised release and up to five million dollars in fines.

Under the United States Sentencing Guidelines, trafficking in 100 to 999 kilograms of marijuana or 100 to 999 marijuana plants carries a base offense level between 24-28, but a judge is required to impose a minimum prison sentence of five years in prison, unless the defendant qualifies for the safety valve or the government requests a downward departure.

Trafficking in 1,000 kilograms or more of marijuana, or 1,000 or more marijuana plants

Under federal law, the crime of trafficking in 1,000 kilograms or more of marijuana, or 1,000 or more marijuana plants is a Class A felony, punishable by ten years to life in prison to be followed by five years of supervised release and up to ten million dollars in fines.

Under the United States Sentencing Guidelines, trafficking in 1,000 kilograms or more of marijuana, or 1,000 or more marijuana plants carries a base offense level between 30-38, but a judge is required to impose a minimum prison sentence of ten years in prison, unless the defendant qualifies for the safety valve or the government requests a downward departure.

Defenses to Marijuana Trafficking

In addition to the pretrial defenses and trial defenses that can be raised in any criminal case, common defenses to the crime of Marijuana Trafficking include:

Entrapment

Entrapment occurs when an undercover law enforcement officer or confidential informant induces a person to commit a criminal offense that the person would otherwise have been unlikely to commit. If it can be shown you were entrapped, the court can dismiss the charges against you.

Illegal Search and Seizure

Often, law enforcement exceed the scope of their authority and require people to submit to a vehicle, home, or body search when they otherwise would not be required to; coerce people into agreeing to a search; arrest people without probable cause; or obtain search warrants in bad faith.

If any of these can be proven through the filing of a Motion to Suppress, the courts will suppress the resulting evidence as having been illegally obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the United States; which can lead to an outright dismissal of the case.

Insufficient Evidence

The prosecutor can only prove you possessed marijuana for the purposes of trafficking in one of two ways:

  1. Actual Possession
  2. Constructive Possession

Actual Possession

To prove that you actually possessed marijuana, the prosecutor has to show the marijuana was found on your person. So if the marijuana was found in your personally owned car while you were driving, the prosecutor would have a case involving actual possession of marijuana.

Constructive Possession

On the other hand, if the marijuana was found in a place where more than one person had access, the prosecutor would have a much more difficult time proving you possessed the marijuana because they would have to comply with the law of constructive possession.

The law of constructive possession requires the prosecutor to prove each of three distinct elements before you can be convicted:

  1. Knowledge of the marijuana's presence;
  2. Knowledge the substance was marijuana; and
  3. Dominion and control over the marijuana.

Below are scenarios where it could be argued the prosecutor could not meet their burden of proving constructive possession.

Scenario 1: You were stopped while driving a friend's car and police found marijuana in the trunk, they would be unable to convict you of Marijuana Trafficking unless they had some proof that you knew the marijuana was there.
Scenario 2: You were stopped while driving a friend's car and police found a marijuana package in the back seat, but in plain view. They would be unable to convict you of Marijuana Trafficking unless they had some proof that you knew the package contained marijuana.
Scenario 3: You were driving your car, had a friend with you, and your friend takes a package with marijuana in it and places it in the passenger side door pocket. The police then stop you, see your friend's package, and arrest both of you. As long as there is not evidence you were working in conjunction with your friend, they would be unable to convict you of Marijuana Trafficking because, even though you knew the marijuana was there, your friend is the only person who had dominion and control over it.

Substantial Assistance

While not technically a defense, Substantial Assistance is the most commonly utilized method to avoid the minimum-mandatory sentencing required for the crime of Marijuana Trafficking.

The prosecutor is authorized by statute to ask the court to reduce or suspend a sentence of any person who is convicted of drug trafficking when the person provides substantial assistance in the identification, arrest, or conviction of any other person engaged in trafficking in controlled substances.

This remedy is routinely offered pursuant to a "Substantial Assistance Contract" that requires you to "assist" law enforcement in arresting a specific amount of individuals involved in trafficking drugs within a limited period of time.

However, if you are unable to deliver the specified amount of people, you will be required to serve the applicable mandatory minimum prison sentence; regardless of how hard you tried to "assist" law enforcement.

Contact Federal Defense Lawyer Richard Hornsby

If the Federal government is prosecuting you for the crime of Marijuana Trafficking in Florida, contact Orlando Federal Criminal Defense Lawyer today.

The initial consultation is free and I am always available to advise you on the proper course of action that can be taken.