More than 25 states have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes while another 7 states have legalized it for recreational use. The status and legal nature of marijuana varies to a certain extent in each of these states, but it stands that marijuana has maintained a general legal status at the state level at least. That is not the case in South Carolina, but it may change soon.
After several attempts throughout the past few years to pass a bill on medical marijuana, the momentum to pass it finally in South Carolina seems good this year. On January 10, 2017, the first day the legislative 122nd Session began in Columbia, South Carolina, Senator Tom Davis and Representative Peter McCoy introduced the South Carolina Compassionate Care Act. Then on February 21, 2017, the bill passed a House subcommittee. The advancement of the bill, however, was over the objections of South Carolina’s law enforcement agencies. SLED Chief Mark Keel reportedly said that “Any substance with potential for use as a medicine by the public needs to be regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, as all prescription medications are not to ensure the public’s health and safety. … Local legislation should not replace science.” But science does concur with the advocates of medical marijuana: it can be safe and is effective for medical purposes.
That said, though marijuana stands a greater chance this year of legalization than it ever has, it is still not legal, and even if – for medical purposes – it is eventually legalized, it is still illegal for possession for recreational purposes, and there is no appetite present yet in South Carolina to move toward with full legalization.
Columbia, South Carolina, has been home to many marijuana sting operations, and of course, there is the famous yet wasteful investigation into the alleged marijuana possession of Olympian Michael Phelps in 2009 at a college party. Marijuana has a culture in Columbia, South Carolina, and whether right or wrong, it’s possession is still illegal. If you’ve been charged with marijuana possession or any other offense related to marijuana, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney located in Columbia, South Carolina, to immediately begin the investigation into and legal strategy of your case.
SIMPLE POSSESSION OF MARIJUANA
Simple possession of marijuana is one of the most common drug-related reasons for arrest in Columbia, South Carolina. Simple possess is defined as less than one ounce of marijuana in your possession at the time you were arrested and is considered a misdemeanor. Potential sentencing consequences vary depending if the offense is your first or not.
- First offense possession of 1 ounce or less of marijuana may result in a misdemeanor accompanied by a jail sentence of up to 30 days and a maximum fine of $200, plus court costs and other applicable costs in and outside the court.
Alternatively, if it’s your first offense, you could qualify for Pre-Trial Intervention or a Conditional Discharge. Pre-Trial Intervention was established for first time non-violent offenders. The program is approximately 6 months and requires participants to (1) complete 30-50 hours of community service; (2) pass drug tests; and (3) attend mandatory counseling. With conditional discharge, a judge holds a guilty plea in abeyance for a 3 – 12-month probationary period. This means the judge accepts the guilty plea but doesn’t put it on the books, so to speak. During the probationary period, random drug tests will be conducts. If there are no positive drug tests, then the conviction will be discharged and expunged. If there are positive drug tests, then the conviction will take effect and you will be sentenced.
- Second or subsequence offense of possession of 1 ounce or less of marijuana may result in a misdemeanor accompanied by a jail sentence of up to 12 months and a maximum $1,000 fine, plus courts costs and other applicable costs in and outside the court.
Possession of More than 1 Ounce
If you are found to be in possession of more than 1 ounce of marijuana, it is no longer simple possession of marijuana and the penalties, of course, are much worse. The fines can increase up to $5,000, plus court and other fines, and sentencing could be up to 5 years or more. Your best bet, if you want to smoke marijuana recreationally would be to move to a state where it is now legal recreationally, or else risk the strict consequences in South Carolina.
Actual v. Constructive Possession
Additionally, you can be convicted of possession of marijuana even if it’s not actually in your possession. Actual possession refers to marijuana being on your person when you were charged. You can also be charged through constructive possession. Constructive possession means that the marijuana was found in a space of which you have control. For instance, it could have been uncovered in your car glove box, and could be a friend of yours, but if it’s your car, you’re driving it, you were pulled over, and the marijuana was found in your glove compartment, you are responsible and will likely be charged.
Possession of Hashish
The possession of hashish comes with a bit more stricter laws. If you are found with 10 grams or less of hashish, it is a misdemeanor accompanied by up to 30 days in jail and a fine of $200. If you are found with more than 10 grams of hashish, you could be spending up to 5 years in jail and subject to a $5,000 fine.
Marijuana from a State where it’s Legal
Can you smoke marijuana that you legally purchased from another state? You can if you are still in that state. You cannot if you brought it into South Carolina. Regardless if it was purchased illegally for medical or recreational purposes, as of today, marijuana is not legal in any shape or form in the state of South Carolina.
Any kind of drug or alcohol charge and/or conviction can have serious collateral consequences, particularly if you are a professional or a student. For professionals, some of you may find your employment in jeopardy. For students, you may find (1) limited access to or ineligibility for federal and state financial aid; and (2) limited employment prospects when it’s time for you to seek employment. Finding a criminal defense attorney in Columbia, South Carolina, who can help you avoid or minimize a marijuana conviction is essential to your future.
AGGRESSIVE LEGAL COUNSEL
If you have been arrested and charged for marijuana possession in Columbia, South Carolina, you need to hire an attorney. The legal consequences of a marijuana possession charge can be severe, and so too can any collateral consequences (for example, loss of employment or student loan). You need to fight the charge, and you need an experienced, aggressive South Carolina criminal defense attorney to do it. Contact the Michael Jeffcoat Firm today to discuss your case.
Mr. Jeffcoat, a native of the Columbia area, founded the law firm in 1999. Mr. Jeffcoat got his undergraduate degree at Wofford College in 1994, majoring in Political Economy and Philosophy, and then went to the University of South Carolina School of Law, where he received his J.D. in 1997. After working in two law firms following his graduation from law school, Jeffcoat ventured out on his own to launch The Jeffcoat Firm in March of 1999.