Distinguishing Between Intent to Distribute Versus Simple Possession
As states across the country move to legalize marijuana for medicinal and even recreational use, Louisiana lags behind on relaxing the drug laws. As a New Orleans criminal defense law firm, Bloom Legal gets calls all the time from both locals and tourists who were arrested with marijuana and who now face criminal charges that are at least a misdemeanor. Unfortunately, many of the accused who make these calls have been charged with a crime more that is much more serious than the one they should have been charged with.
Why is that? Because, as we explain in our video Discussing Marijuana, a lot of people are charged with Possession with Intent to Distribute, or PWID, instead of just with possession of marijuana. Law enforcement can charge you with PWID solely on the basis of having a lot of marijuana even if there is not any evidence that you actually plan to sell it.
When Does Possession Become Intent to Distribute?
Prosecutors and police have some discretion regarding the marijuana charges you face, and the facts of your particular situation are going to determine whether you get charged with simple possession or possession with intent to distribute.
A New Orleans criminal defense lawyer knows, for example, that police are going to look at both how much of the drug you have as well as the form that the marijuana is in at the time of your arrest.
The example we give in our video is the difference between an ounce of marijuana that you have in bulk because you smoke regularly to treat a medical problem, and an ounce of marijuana that is broken up into little baggies that are ready for sale. The little baggies are a lot more incriminating, and it is going to be harder to argue you didn’t have intent to distribute when circumstantial evidence points to the fact that you did.
Of course, there are plenty of situations where you may have larger quantities of the drug for personal use and no intent to sell it at all. In these cases, it is especially important that you talk to a New Orleans criminal defense lawyer for help arguing that you deserve the lesser charge of possession rather than PWID. Prosecutors and police should use their discretion in these cases to avoid charging you with the more serious crime that you didn’t commit, but instead the opposite often happens.
The Impact of Drug Laws Based on Drug Quantities
The sad reality is the fact that the law uses quantity, rather than actual evidence of intent to distribute, has resulted in problems within the criminal justice system.
Human Rights Watch recently published a report about overzealous prosecutors using threats of more serious criminal charges to secure guilty pleas. Since only the amount of a drug matters, the prosecutors weren’t looking at the actual behavior or culpability of a defendant, but were instead using the fact that drug offenders can face mandatory minimum sentences to scare defendants into accepting a guilty plea.
Although the Human Rights Watch report deals with federal drug cases with lengthy terms of incarceration, you may still feel pressured to plead guilty to the lesser offense of possession rather than going to court to fight against a threatened PWID charge. Your criminal record and future are at stake, though, so be sure that you talk to a New Orleans criminal defense lawyer before you decide how to proceed when charged with a drug crime.