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Despite changes in other states, Arizona remains tough on marijuana

Despite the fact that many states have decriminalized marijuana possession, in Arizona you can be charged with a felony for possessing even a small amount of cannabis.

State law says that, if you don't have a medical marijuana card, possession of less than 2 pounds of marijuana can be a felony or a misdemeanor. The level of the charge is left to the discretion of the judge.

It is possible in many cases to have a first or second marijuana charge reduced to a misdemeanor. Alternatively, it may be possible to participate in a drug treatment program and have the charge dropped upon completion.

The reality, though, is that a person arrested for possessing less than 2 pounds of marijuana faces the possibility of four months to two years in jail, along with a heavy fine. Collateral consequences could also include job loss and difficulty finding housing.

The penalties increase as the amount of marijuana increases or if you're accused of cultivating or trafficking marijuana. The law is particularly harsh on possession of hash and marijuana concentrates, and anyone accused of a marijuana crime should seek help from a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

Often people find themselves facing marijuana charges after a routine traffic stop or other unexpected encounter with law enforcement. You might be the sort of person who would never even consider hurting someone else, but now you're accused of a serious crime.

Understand, though, that you have a right to fight the charge, and police officers and prosecutors are not perfect -- they do make mistakes. In other words, don't assume that your only option is to plead guilty. Talk to a lawyer about achieving the best possible outcome in your case.

For more on defending against marijuana charges, please see Antol & Hance's drug charge overview.

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