Houman Fakhimi

California Marijuana Arrests Will Increase With Federal Crackdown

The issue of medical marijuana in California has become a contentious - and outright confusing - one in recent months, as various courts, federal authorities, municipalities and dispensaries continue to hammer out what's legal.

But in the meantime, Orange County Criminal Defense Lawyer Houman Fakhimi expects to see a spike in arrests for marijuana trafficking and marijuana cultivation.

A recent case illustrates the point:

Local and federal investigators destroyed some 1,100 marijuana plants that had been growing in the San Bernardino National Forest, arresting a Mexican man in connection with their cultivation. A second suspect was reportedly seen running from the site, but he has not yet been found, officials said.

A number of the plants were reportedly full-grown, averaging between 6 and 7-feet tall. Officials estimate the operation had first started in April - not coincidentally just a few months after the federal crackdown against dispensaries was launched in October.

Although California voters legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes back in 1996 with the Compassionate Use Act (becoming the first state ever to do so), regulation has been left largely up to local governments. There has been a wide variance in this regard, depending on where you are.

However, state law still does not allow for cultivation, sale or use of marijuana for recreational purposes, and federal law doesn't allow for these things under any circumstances (hence the ongoing court conflicts).

Charges of marijuana cultivation and sale can be prosecuted at either the state or federal level.

California's Health & Safety Code 11358 forbids all acts associated with cultivating and/or manufacturing marijuana. These acts include any handling of the seeds or cultivation of the soil or processing/drying of the plant once it's been harvested.

Many times, individuals who grow their own will have several plants because a single plant rarely produces much. However, anytime more than a couple plants are found, prosecutors will assume the intent is to sell, in which case individuals are then additionally charged with California Health & Safety Code 11359, or marijuana possession with intent to sell.

The exception to this, of course, has been medical marijuana. However, the laws are confusing and inconsistent across the state. Inevitably, this - in addition to federal action targeting thousands of medical marijuana dispensaries - is going to lead to an uptick in arrests for a variety of marijuana charges.

Also, unless and until the U.S. Supreme Court takes a contrary stand on the issue, you can always still be charged with cultivation under federal law.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration lays forth the following punishments for a first offense trafficking in marijuana (classified as a Schedule I narcotic):

  • For 1 to 49 plants, you could serve up to 5 years, with fines of up to $250,000 for an individual or $1 million for an organization;
  • For 50 to 99 plants, you could serve up to 20 years in prison and pay fines of up to $1 million for an individual or up to $5 million for an organization;
  • For 100 to 999 plants, you will serve a minimum of 5 years in prison and a maximum of 40 years in prison, plus fines of up to $5 million for an individual or $25 million for an organization.

If you are arrested on marijuana charges in Orange County, you can not assume the courts will be lenient due to state law, which is up in the air as it is.

Contact Houman Fakhimi trial attorney at (714) 705-6701 as soon as possible if you are charged with a crime in Orange County.