The country’s marijuana laws seem to be in constant flux. While marijuana use and possession is illegal at the federal level, more and more states have legalized marijuana for medical use, recreational use or both. Other states haven’t legalized pot, but they have decriminalized it.
The inconsistency of marijuana laws often works against those facing drug charges. But in one recent case, the disparity between federal law and Pennsylvania law actually spared a man from up to 13 extra years in prison.
In 2008, the man from central Pennsylvania was convicted in state court of possession with intent to deliver marijuana. A decade later, in 2018, the man was charged with and pleaded guilty to federal cocaine distribution charges. Based on his previous criminal record, prosecutors sought to have him classified as a “career offender,” which would have resulted in a much longer prison sentence.
Recently, however, the judge in the case ruled that the 2008 conviction couldn’t be a factor in his sentencing because there are some substantial differences between state and federal laws regarding the criminality of marijuana. Specifically, federal legislators removed hemp from the definition of marijuana in the 2018 farm bill, meaning that under Pennsylvania law, marijuana is defined more broadly than under federal law.
With an additional weapons possession conviction, the man could have been facing up to 19.5 years in prison if classified as a career offender. The max under current guidelines is 6.5 years.
This case is a reminder that the details matter in any criminal case – even those that may not initially seem relevant to the facts of the case. As such, if you are facing charges, it’s important to work with an attorney who really knows the law and will vigorously advocate for you at every stage of the justice process.