Although marijuana laws are easing in various states nationwide, it is still illegal to possess the substance for recreational use in Utah. A person found with the drug can be charged with a misdemeanor or felony. The level of charge depends on the amount of marijuana the individual had and the person’s criminal history. It is a defense to the charge that the person had a medical cannabis patient card upon a physician's recommendation.
Recreational Use of Marijuana Is Illegal in Utah
The laws concerning marijuana are relatively restrictive, prohibiting the intentional and knowing possession of the substance for recreational use.
Although some states have legalized adult-use marijuana, it is still illegal to possess in Utah. Even if someone travels from a state where marijuana is legal to Utah, they would violate not only Uta’s laws but also federal statutes. The federal government still classifies marijuana as an illegal Schedule I substance.
People who live in or visit Utah should be aware that even if they obtain marijuana legally elsewhere, it cannot be brought back into the state without breaking federal and local laws. Harsh penalties can be levied against anyone in possession of the substance.
The Potential Penalties for Recreational Marijuana Possession
If someone is charged with possessing marijuana in Utah, the State must show that the individual knew that they had it and was aware of the type of substance it was. Each element must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt for a guilty verdict to be rendered.
The charges and possible punishments for a marijuana possession conviction vary. A couple of factors affect them, including the amount of the substance and whether the defendant has any prior convictions for the offense.
Generally, a first-time marijuana possession violation is a class B misdemeanor. At this level, the potential term of confinement is a maximum of 6 months. Additionally, the court may assess a fine of not more than $1,000.
A third offense within 7 years of the prior convictions is a class A misdemeanor, punishable by jail time not to exceed 364 days and/or a fine of not more than $2,500. Fourth or subsequent offenses are charged as third-degree felonies and can land an individual in prison for up to 5 years. It can also result in a fine of up to $5,000.
Possessing more than 100 pounds of marijuana is also a felony. However, in this instance, it’s a second-degree felony. Utah penalizes this level of charge with 1 to 15 years of imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $10,000.
The Medical Marijuana Exception
It is a defense against a drug possession charge that the accused has a medical marijuana card. The card allows individuals with certain qualifying health issues to obtain and use the substance to treat their condition.
Qualifying conditions include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Multiple sclerosis
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Crohn’s disease
To be eligible for a medical marijuana card, an individual must receive a health care practitioner certification. Those between 18 and 20 years of age must also get approval from the Compassionate Use Board. The requirement does not apply to people 21 years of age and older.
A medical marijuana card may be initially issued for 6 months. It allows qualified individuals to purchase the substance from authorized dispensaries and only in approved medicinal dosages.
How an Attorney Can Help Fight a Marijuana Possession Charge
Although some people might possess marijuana legally after obtaining a medical card, others may be accused of having or using the substance without a medical purpose. Even in these instances, the case is not hopeless.
A criminal defense attorney can review the facts and uncover avenues that can be explored to pursue a favorable outcome. For instance, they may find weaknesses in proof or discover a constitutional violation during the investigation and move to have evidence excluded from the case. They could also negotiate a plea deal with the prosecutor, resulting in lesser charges or a recommendation for more lenient sentencing.
Whatever your situation, discuss your case with a member of our Salt Lake City team by calling Lokken & Putnam, P.C. at (801) 829-9783 or contacting us online today.