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1st-Time Pot Possession: What Penalties Are Possible?

By Daniel Taylor, Esq. | Last updated on

Penalties for first-time pot possession, like real estate, depend primarily on three things: location, location, location.

For example, in Washington and Colorado, possessing marijuana is no longer even a state crime for those old enough to buy it. Even in states where it is still against the law to possess pot, district attorneys are refusing to prosecute low-level pot cases. But what about the states that do still punish possession of marijuana?

What penalties are possible for first-time pot possession?

  • Know someone who has been arrested or charged with a crime? Get in touch with a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney in your area today.

Decriminalized Jurisdictions

Along with those states that have legalized marijuana, many other states and cities have decriminalized possession of small amounts of pot. In those jurisdictions, the possible punishments include:

  • Fines. A law passed in 2010 in Philadelphia made possession of marijuana a summary offense and not a misdemeanor, as it had been previously. Under this law, first-time possession is punishable by a $200 fine and is not included on a person's criminal record.
  • Seizure of pot, paraphernalia. In Washington D.C., possession of pot was also recently decriminalized. Possession of an ounce or less of marijuana is now punishable by seizure of drugs and paraphernalia, along with a $25 fine. Similar to Philadelphia and other decriminalized jurisdictions, offenses will not appear on the criminal records of those cited.
  • Underage possessors may face harsher penalties. Even in states like Colorado that have legalized recreational marijuana use and possession, penalties will still apply to offenders who are underage. In Colorado, for example, those under 21 years of age caught with marijuana may face similar penalties to those caught drinking underage, including fines and even possible jail time.

Criminalized Jurisdictions

In addition to fines and seizure of drugs and paraphernalia, first-time possession charges in other states can carry far harsher criminal penalties:

  • Jail time. In many states, first-time drug possession can still get you serious time in jail. In Kentucky, for example, possession of even a small amount of marijuana is a Class B misdemeanor punishable by up to 45 days in jail.
  • Criminal record. In states that still criminalize marijuana, a conviction for possession will show up on your criminal record, which can come back to haunt you when applying for a job.
  • Probation. In addition to jail time, a first-time pot offender may be sentenced to probation. The conditions of probation are at the discretion of the court, but can include regular meetings with a probation officer, travel limitations, mandatory drug testing, and warrantless searches by police.

If you are facing marijuana possession charges, a criminal defense attorney can help explain your legal options.

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