Comparison Between Marijuana Drug Charges And Other Drug Related Charges

Interviewer: Compared to like alcohol related or other drug related DUI, how does Marijuana stand as far as the penalty can go? Is it any less than like a cocaine charge or alcohol charge or is it a more?

Matthew Nebeker: It just depends on the amount that they have in their possession, are they near a drug-free zone and they do have any prior convictions but if you’re in that felony range, the amount that you have or you know you’ve been enhanced and you’re charged, they bump it up to a felony, then you could be looking and going to prison.  But what I see a lot is the, you know, small quantities, they’re Class B misdemeanors.  The fine on that is usually around $700 to $1,000 just for the court fine, and then, the person — the client is usually, if they’re convicted, they’re asked to participate in a drug and alcohol assessment that they have to pay for and they have to follow any recommendations of the assessment.

If a Counselor Feels that the Defendant is a Chronic Drug User, He / She Can Impose 16 to 52 Weeks of Classes

If this counselor feels that this person is a chronic user and has a really serious problem, they could be going from 16 weeks to 52 weeks of classes that they have to pay for.  And during this time, they’re usually subject to random testing and so, you know, six months after the charge happens and the case is going to court, they could be asked to do a drug test by the tested agency or the court or a probation officer if they’re on probation. They’re pretty serious in that way because you have the fine and you have to pay for that class actually and you also have to pay for those tests, those random tests, you know.  Sometimes, they can be $20 to $75 per test depending on what kind of tests they want you to take, and so you have that.

In Utah, the Driver’s License Division Will Suspend a Person’s License for Six Months Following a Marijuana Charge Even if You’re Not in the Vicinity of a Car

Here’s an interesting consequence of just a simple marijuana possession charged in Utah is even if it’s not related to driving or you’re not around a vehicle, Driver’s License Division will still suspend the person’s license for six months.  So, if you’re in your backyard and if you’re having a barbecue and you’re back there, using Marijuana and your neighbor calls it in and the officer shows up and he looks over the fence or smells, you know, the smell of the Marijuana and he confronts you about it and you’re convicted of it ultimately possession and/or using it, then it’s six month license suspension.  And you’re not even in a car. Now, if you’d gotten a DUI for being under the influence of Marijuana so you’d smoked the Marijuana at your barbecue, gotten in your car and drove your friend home and you’re under the influence of Marijuana, the Driver’s License Division would only suspend your license for, on a first defense, 120 days, so four months instead of six months.  So that’s kind of an interesting thing that our legislators’ done is made that driver’s license penalty in place for not even being near a vehicle.  I’d say even harsher if you’re not in the vehicle.

The Defendant Assumes a Marijuana Charge is a Minor Misdemeanor but then is informed of the Driver’s License Suspension

So, that’s one of the ramifications that a lot of people are not aware of this because they get the car all of the time.  The client goes in the court and he thinks well, this is just a class B misdemeanor, simple possession of Marijuana, you know, he goes in there and pleads guilty and about a week later, he gets a letter in the mail from the Driver’s License Division stating that your license has been suspended for six months because it’s not the court that’s suspending the license.  The court is simply, under the law, obligated to report the conviction to the Driver’s License Division and then, Driver’s License Division sends out a letter saying they’ve suspended.  So, most of the time, when they walk out of court, on their sentencing sheet or their sentencing order, it doesn’t say anything about a license suspension.

A Lot of Convictions Are Reported to the Department of Professional Licensing in Utah

Then they come, calling me and come to my office to see if there’s anything that I can do for them to help them get their license back or because that’s usually one of the biggest things for a lot of my clients is “I need my license, I’ve got to get to work.  I’ve got to get to school.  I’ve got to get my, you know, kids to school and to the doctor” and things like that and so that’s a huge one for a lot of clients.  And then, a lot of these convictions are reported to our department of professional licensing.  You know if you have some kind of professional license like you’re a certified nursing assistant or a nurse or a relator or you know in the financial services, you sell insurance things like that, these convictions are going to get reported to those and you’ll have to go and answer to your professional licensing board even for this tiny measurable amount of Marijuana and if they do find it and so they could lose their license.

It is Always Advisable to Retain an Attorney for these Charges as an Attorney is Aware of the Collateral Consequences and their Remedies

One of the other things that I see is college students, there’s a couple of universities here in this area where I practice and the students will be experimenting, using Marijuana and get caught whether on town campus or a buyer or something like that, a party, house party, something like that and you know they just think “Well, no big deal.  It’s a party being in college” and they go and plead guilty to it and then, you know, a month later or so, they get a letter from the financial aid provider saying that you know, “Because of this, you know, Marijuana conviction, your financial aid has been suspended”, you know, and they suspend it for a year on a first offence, two years on the second offence and things like that.  And so, there are all these collateral consequences that we call them that go beyond just the fines and the treatment and the possible jail time and so, that’s why it is really important to contact an attorney who’s, you know, experienced and familiar with all these collateral consequences because they just don’t tell you and your court order doesn’t say it when you walk out of court after pleading guilty.  So, that’s why it’s better to get consult with an attorney on these types of charges.

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