Prison Mandatory for Trafficking in Marijuana or Cannabis in Florida?
When drug possession charges escalate to drug trafficking charges, the illegal drugs are generally being sold, distributed, imported, exported, dispensed, manufactured, grown or delivered. The amount of the drug in question is key to whether a person will be charged with possession or trafficking, although the amount will depend on the specific substance. When the substance is marijuana or cannabis, the minimum amount necessary to change possession charges into trafficking charges is 25 pounds.
Cannabis is the species name for the entire plant, and there are a number of cannabis varieties. The term cannabis is also used for the product made from the flowers of the plant. Marijuana and weed are other commonly used names for the same product—the dried, crushed flower tops and leaves of the cannabis plant. The greater the amount of marijuana the accused has in his or her possession, the more severe the repercussions in the event of a conviction.
How is Trafficking Proven in the State of Florida?
Marijuana is a controlled substance in the state of Florida. To definitively prove the crime of trafficking in Cannabis or marijuana, the state must be able to prove four elements beyond a reasonable doubt. These four elements include:
- The accused knowingly possessed, purchased, sold, delivered, brought into the state of Florida or manufactured a specific substance;
- That substance was cannabis or marijuana;
- The quantity of the cannabis or marijuana was either more than 25 pounds, or at least 300 marijuana or cannabis plants.
- The accused was aware the substance in question was cannabis or marijuana. (knowledge that the drug was a controlled substance is not an element of the criminal offense. In fact, lack of knowledge of the illicit nature of the drug can be an affirmative defense—if the jury reasonably doubts the defendant was aware the drug was a controlled substance, then they can find the defendant not guilty).
To manufacture marijuana under Florida Statute 893.01(13)(a), includes either directly or indirectly cultivating, compounding, processing, converting, propagating, labeling or relabeling, packaging, preparing or growing the substance. Manufacturing can be accomplished through extraction of the natural substance or through chemical synthesis.
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How is Weight Accurately Determined?
The weight of processed marijuana is allowed to be combined with the weight of any plants which are still growing, in order to reach an amount which qualifies under the tracking statute. This means that even if the number of marijuana plants is insufficient to charge the defendant with tracking in marijuana or cannabis, the weight of the plants can be combined with other processed or unprocessed marijuana in the control of the defendant.
What is Substantial Assistance?
While there are many potential defenses to trafficking in marijuana or cannabis—some of which are discussed below—substantial assistance is often a factor in trafficking cases. Substantial Assistance is not technically a defense, rather it is a commonly used method which enables a defendant charged with marijuana trafficking to avoid the minimum mandatory sentencing for the crime of Trafficking in Cannabis. Substantial Assistance allows the state attorney to exchange a reduction in sentence or suspend a sentence of a person convicted of Trafficking in Cannabis if that person helps convict others of the same crime.
In other words, the convicted person becomes something like a confidential informant, assisting Florida law enforcement in the arrest of a specified number of individuals (usually within a limited time period) who are also involved in trafficking drugs in the state of Florida. If, however, the defendant is unable to “deliver,” he or she could be required to serve the prison sentence which would have been applied according to the conviction specifics.
Mandatory Penalties for Trafficking in Marijuana or Cannabis
In the state of Florida drug trafficking is a serious offense, bringing minimum mandatory penalties. This means if a person is convicted for trafficking in marijuana or cannabis, the Judge may hand down a sentence of no less than the minimum mandatory. Specifically, the minimum mandatory sentences are as follows:
- At least 25 pounds of marijuana but less than 2,000 pounds, or more than 300 plants results in a 3-year minimum mandatory sentence and a $25,000 fine.
- At least 2,000 pounds of marijuana, but less than 10,000 pounds, or more than 2,000 plants results in a 7-year minimum mandatory sentence and a $50,000 fine.
- Anything over 10,000 pounds of marijuana results in a 15-year minimum mandatory sentence and a $200,000 fine.
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Point System from the Florida Department of Corrections Scoresheet Manual
The Florida Department of Corrections released Florida sentencing guidelines in the form of a scoresheet preparation manual. When a person is arrested for a felony crime, that crime is assigned a certain level as a primary offense. The level is then assigned a specific number of points. Should the defendant score above 44 points, they will be sentenced to time in a Florida state prison for a certain number of months. In the case of a drug trafficking conviction, the Judge may not adjust the prison sentence downward, as the mandatory minimum applies.
Trafficking in marijuana or cannabis in the state of Florida is a level seven offense (with level 10 being the most serious crimes). A level 7 offense = 56 points. A prior criminal record can add additional points to that total. A legal status violation will add an additional four points (escape, fleeing, failure to appear, incarceration, pretrial intervention or diversion program, etc.). Drug trafficking means the total points will be multiplied by 1.5.
The computation for prison sentence takes any amount of points over 44, subtracts 28, then multiplies the result by .75 to arrive at the prison sentence in months. As an example, trafficking in marijuana or cannabis of more than 25 pounds but less than 2,000 pounds is 56 points but as mentioned above is multiplied by 1.5, therefore the scoring is as follows: 84– 28 = 56 x .75 = 42 months, (however the mandatory minimum sentence is three years) Under Florida statute 893.135(1)(a), the crime of trafficking in marijuana or cannabis is a first-degree felony. A maximum sentence of 30 years is allowable for trafficking in marijuana or cannabis for any amount over 25 pounds.
Potential Defenses for Trafficking in Marijuana or Cannabis in Florida
Due to the minimum mandatory sentencing for the crime of trafficking in marijuana or cannabis, it is crucial you have an experienced Florida criminal defense attorney who can aggressively defend your charges. There are a number of defenses commonly used for drug crime charges, including the following:
- Violation of the defendant’s rights;
- Illegal search and seizure (no valid search warrant, improperly executed warrant, no probable cause);
- Issues related to possession (questioning whether the defendant was in actual possession of the drugs), and
- Lack of evidence which proves the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.
Can You Beat Trafficking in Marijuana or Cannabis Charges in Florida?
The answer to this question is multi-faceted, and, of course, depends on the exact circumstances of your arrest and charges. That being said, almost across the board you will have a better outcome in your trafficking case with an experienced criminal defense attorney by your side. The attorneys at The Law Place will thoroughly investigate your case, challenging the prosecution to prove every single element of the charges. Our attorneys may be able to challenge the possession issue, as well as assert your right to due process. Drug trafficking charges in the state of Florida can be extremely complex, however with minimum mandatory sentencing upon conviction, we understand the stakes are extremely high and we will zealously fight for your rights, your freedom and your future.
The Law Place has created a sample scoresheet that will enable individuals to plug in their crime and it will determine their possible sentence. That link for the calculator can be found HERE.