I Welcome Your Marijuana Case
In Utah, we’re surrounded by states that have seriously reformed their pot laws–Colorado, Nevada and California, for instance–but not only is possession still a crime here, there are aspects of Utah’s marijuana laws that might shock and dismay you (see below).
Marijuana Charges and Your Utah Driver’s License
Under Utah statute 53-3-220, your driver’s license may be suspended for sixth months for any conviction under the Utah Controlled Substances Act or Utah Drug Paraphernalia Act—so that includes any charge of possessing marijuana or drug paraphernalia! There are ways to try and avoid that suspension, so this is another good reason to talk to an attorney before pleading guilty.
Marijuana and Driving Charges
Please see my information on Driving with a Measurable Controlled Substance or “Metabolite DUI.”
Medical Marijuana (Utah’s Proposition 2)
In November of 2018, Utah passed a medical marijuana law by ballot initiative. It is good news, but it does not mean that it is safe or easy to get medical marijuana here or legal to possess marijuana for most people. I’ll try to keep this information updated as best I can as the law changes more (which it surely will), but for now check out this blog post: Utah Legalizes Medical Marijuana! Kinda! Sort of!
Marijuana Criminal Penalties
For a long time, possession of less than one ounce of marijuana has been a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to 6 months in jail and $1,900 in fines. It used to be that possession of one ounce to one pound was a Class A misdemeanor, and possession of 1 pound to 100 pounds was a Third Degree Felony, and possession of over 100 pounds was a Second Degree Felony. However, Utah made a major revision to its drug laws, which went into effect last October, and now it seems that possession of any amount less than 100 pounds is only a Class B misdemeanor! See Utah Code 58-37-8. BUT (and this is a big BUT), don’t expect that you won’t be charged with a felony if you have 99 pounds of marijuana. That’s because there’s no lower cutoff amount for a charge of Possession with Intent to Distribute. So if you have more than a “personal use” amount of pot, you’ll still get slapped with a felony charge.
Possession of paraphernalia is also a Class B (see Utah Code 58-37a-5), with the same possible penalties. (See my blog post about Utah Paraphernalia Law)
If the police find a pipe with some marijuana resin in it, it’s very possible you’ll be charged with both possession AND paraphernalia (that resin counts!), and the sentence can be consecutive. So if you got caught with a well-used bong, will you go to jail for a year? Probably not, unless you used it to bludgeon a puppy. But these maximum penalties are technically possible, and some judges do send marijuana possessors for a stay in jail, and it’s very likely that any judge will order drug treatment and impose hefty fines, in addition to the collateral consequences such as a criminal record and a driver’s license suspension (see above). So a possession/paraphernalia charge is still a big deal.
Constructive Possession (“That baggie wasn’t mine!”)
So the police found a baggie in the side-pocket of a car you were riding in, and you’ve been charged with possession. You can still be guilty, even if you didn’t physically possess the controlled substance. That’s the doctrine of “constructive possession.” Under the law, that means you had both the “power and intent to exercise dominion and control” over the controlled substance. What does that mean? Well, we attorneys argue about that very question every day of the week, and it’s ultimately up to the judge or jury to decide what it means. But this is one of the few Utah laws which is slightly favorable to defendants (compared to other states), and if there’s any question over who actually possessed the contraband, you might have a viable defense. It’s definitely something to talk to an attorney about.