What you need to know about and defend against Possession of Marijuana, A.R.S. § 13-3405, Possession of Narcotic Drugs, A.R.S. § 13-3408, or Possession of Dangerous Drugs, A.R.S. § 13-3407 charges in Arizona.
If you’ve been arrested or charged for possession of Marijuana, Dangerous Drugs, or Narcotic drugs, hope is not lost. A criminal conviction, even for mere possession charges, can have a devastating effect on your future. You should take those charges seriously and know that you have options.
Understand the charges against you, learn what your defenses are, and consider hiring an experienced attorney to help you through these difficult circumstances.
What is the law in Arizona?
Arizona law divides all of its controlled substances into one of three categories: 1) Possession of Marijuana (A.R.S. § 13-3405), 2) Possession of Dangerous Drugs (A.R.S. § 13-3407), or 3) Possession of Narcotic Drugs (A.R.S. § 13-3408). Although possession of Marijuana is self-explanatory, possession of narcotics or dangerous drugs is not.
Narcotic drugs are controlled substances that are typically used to treat a medical condition or symptom. (However, many of the listed substances have fallen out of medical favor by physicians due to their addictive nature or side effects.) The most commonly charged substances in possession of narcotic drug cases are cocaine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, fentanyl, and heroin.
Dangerous drugs are substances Arizona has classified as being highly addictive with little medical benefit (of course this is relative but that is the general idea). In general, this category encompases most social or synthetic drugs like ecstasy. The most commonly charged substances in possession of dangerous drug cases are methamphetamines, LSD, PCP, MDMA (ecstasy), and other types of amphetamines.
Depending on which category the controlled substances falls into will determine what a person will be charged with. This is all statutory. The legislature determines which category the drug will fall into. The penalties, if convicted, depend on what type of substance it is and how much a person has. Arizona amplified penalties if the substance is over a certain amount. This is coined as the threshold amount in Arizona. The most common threshold amounts in Arizona are:
||9 grams (powder form), 750 milligrams (rock form)
||½ milliliter (liquid form), 50 doses (blotter form)
||4 grams or 50 milliliters
Typically, if the amount is over threshold, a person is likely facing charges for Possession with Intent to Distribute because there is a presumption that quantities of drugs in that amount are meant to be distributed. However, this presumption can be overcome and it is important for that to happen as the penalties for possession with intent to distribute are much higher.
What are the penalties for Possession of Marijuana, Possession of Dangerous Drugs, or Possession of Narcotic Drugs?
Assuming a person is only charged with possessing the substances for personal use, the following are the maximum penalties for each offense:
Possession of Marijuana: Possessing less than 2 pounds of marijuana for recreational use or even medical use if one fails to first attain a medical marijuana card is a class 6 felony in Arizona.
Penalties: The presumptive term in prison for a class 6 felony is 1 year in prison. This can be aggravated up to 2 years or mitigated down to 3 months. The prison range increases if a person has one or more prior felony convictions. Alternatively, a person may be sentenced to probation for up to 3 years. If this is a first offense, it is very likely that a person will be protected under Proposition 200. Proposition 200 requires that a person’s first two convictions for drug offenses must receive probation. There are some exclusions to Proposition 200. The government also has the option of reducing the class 6 felony down to a misdemeanor. If so, the maximum penalty is 6 months jail and a $2,500.00 fine.
Possession of Narcotic Drugs: Possession of narcotic drugs without a valid prescription under the threshold amount is a class 4 felony offense:
Penalties: The presumptive term in prison for a class 4 felony is 2.5 years in prison. This can be aggravated up to 3.75 years or mitigated down to 1 year. The prison range increases if a person has one or more prior felony convictions. Alternatively, a person may be sentenced to probation for up to 4 years. If this is a first offense, it is very likely that a person will be protected under Proposition 200. Proposition 200 requires that a person’s first two convictions for drug offenses must receive probation. There are some exclusions to Proposition 200.
Possession of Dangerous Drugs: Possession of dangerous drugs under the threshold amount is also a class 4 felony offense:
Penalties: Like possession of narcotic drugs, the presumptive term in prison for a class 4 felony is 2.5 years in prison. This can be aggravated up to 3.75 years or mitigated down to 1 year. The prison range increases if a person has one or more prior felony convictions. Alternatively, a person may be sentenced to probation for up to 4 years. Similar to the other offenses above, proposition 200 requires that a person’s first two convictions for drug offenses must receive probation. There is one big exception that applies to dangerous drugs. Specifically, a person convicted of possessing methamphetamines, even for first time offenses, is excluded from the protection of Proposition 200.
Additional consequences: In any drug possession case, there are other additional consequences that come with a conviction. These include mandatory fines, community service, and classes. Moreover, these offenses should not be treated as minor infractions. Convictions can also result in the loss of welfare benefits, lead to high fines, and result in job loss. It can disqualify a person from serving in the military or losing lucrative business contracts and security clearances.
How do I fight my possession of marijua, narcotic drug, or dangerous drug charges?
We will first look to see if any person’s constitutional rights were violated in attaining the drugs or affectuating the arrest. There are certain rules police have to follow in order for the arrest to be constitutional. If these are not observed, the case may be thrown out for lack of evidence.
Even in cases where the arrest and seizure of the contraband was constitutional, there are still defenses. In all possession cases, a person must knowingly possess or use the substance. Sometimes people are pulled over and they don’t know there is contraband in their vehicle. The same is true for a home or apartment where multiple people are living there. This can hit young adults particularly hard. Perhaps they were the designated driver to a party and didn’t know some of the other people in the car stashed some marijuana under the seat or in a side compartment. A jury must find that a person knew what the substance was in order for them to convict.
Second, a person must actually possess the substance. It is important to remember that possession is not ownership. A person can’t hold onto a drug for someone else if they know what it is. Also, Arizona law doesn’t require that a person physically possess the substance to be found guilty. Constructive possession is allowed under Arizona law. However, even constructive possession requires a person to exercise dominion or control over the substance. A person can’t be found guilty for someone else’s stuff unless the person knew it was an illegal substance and they exercised control over it.
Another defense is that a person possessed the substance pursuant to a valid prescription or medical marijuana card. In the case of a medical marijuana card, the marijuana must also be attained by the appropriate channels and in the appropriate amount.
What can an attorney do to help me if I’ve been charged for drug possession?
Of course, a good attorney can help you fight your charges. At The Heath Law Firm, we are well equipped to provide high quality legal services and provide an aggressive defense. We have helped many clients reduce their sentences, win at trial, or even have the charges thrown out. We’ll help you fight your case every step of the way and get the best outcome we possibly can.
Oftentimes, the government will reduce the charges so that a person can earn a misdemeanor upon successful completion of probation. Moreover, a person might qualify for a diversion program. The most common diversion program for felony offenses in Maricopa County is TASC. Successful completion of the program can result in a dismissal of the charges. There are still some drawbacks to TASC and whether the program makes sense for you will depend on the circumstances of your case. Consulting with an attorney will help you make the decision that is best for you.
We can help you.
If you have been charged with drug possession, call us now. Don’t wait. You might be surprised at what we can do. We understand what you are going through and we want to help. We can help mitigate the legal consequences you’re facing and help you get your life back on track. We also look beyond this case. For those who have determined that they do have a problem and want to seek professional help, we want you to reach out to the right people. We offer discounts to people who voluntarily get professional help. Give us a call today to set up your free consultation.