Marijuana Possession: Laws & Penalties

Get information on the laws and penalties for possession of marijuana, as well as links to the law in your state.

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According to government reports, marijuana is the most commonly used illegal drug in America and over 80 million Americans have tried it. Despite its popularity, there is nowhere in the United States where it is ‘legal’ to possess marijuana. Some states have passed medical marijuana laws permitting possession under certain circumstances, and some state laws have decriminalized marijuana, typically making possession of small amounts punishable by fines or treated as infractions.

But in all states, it is still a violation of federal law – which classifies marijuana as a controlled substance -- to possess marijuana. This conflict may someday be resolved by federal legislation but for now, federal and state law are often at odds with each other, as discussed below.

To get information in your state regarding marijuana laws, jump ahead to the section on marijuana laws by state.

Primary Factors Affecting Punishment

If you have been arrested for possession of marijuana, the key factors that will affect the outcome of your case are as follows:

State or Federal Jurisdiction. Were you arrested by federal or state law enforcement officials? If you were arrested for possession by state law enforcement, you will need to review your state’s laws. If you were arrested by federal law enforcement, most likely you were targeted for arrest because your possession was in connection with other violations such as drug trafficking, large scale grow operations, ties to criminal enterprises, or violent activities or unlawful possession of firearms. Under federal law, possession by itself is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison and up to $1,000 fine for first offense. When possession is tied with sale or other criminal enterprises federal penalties are much harsher and categorized as felonies. Federal prosecutors may also prosecute as marijuana crimes conduct that is legal under a state’s law. This is not common, but the rise in medical marijuana laws has prompted the federal government to periodically reevaluate its enforcement policies.

Decriminalization. Has your state decriminalized marijuana? Fourteen states have done so: Alaska, California, Colorado Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Oregon. Decriminalization means that possession of a small quantity of marijuana for personal use is an infraction, a minor violation akin to a traffic ticket. Typically, violators are subject only to a small fine and first time offenders usually have no criminal record. In states that have decriminalized marijuana, offenders receive citations but they are not arrested unless they possess large amounts or are repeat offenders. In Alaska, which has the most liberal decriminalization laws, there is no penalty for possession of one ounce or less in a person’s residence.

How much? Punishment for marijuana possession typically varies according to the quantity of marijuana possessed. Possession of marijuana almost always constitutes a felony rather than a misdemeanor when the quantity is large enough to indicate that it is held for sale rather than for personal use. In almost all states, possession of amounts greater than one kilogram can result in felony offenses which carry a much more significant penalty. These felony charges can also include the growing, cultivation, manufacturing or sale of marijuana or marijuana drug paraphernalia.

Medical marijuana. Are you certified as part of a state medical marijuana program? Eighteen states have passed laws permitting possession of marijuana for medical purposes. These include: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. Typically these state laws remove criminal penalties for possession to those people who have qualified and have written certification from a physician.

Other Factors Enhancing Punishment

Certain additional factors may affect the punishment for possession. These include

  • Do you have a previous criminal record or is this a second or third offense for possession?
  • Did you sell or give marijuana to minors, or were you arrested for possession near a school, public park or similar community locale? In some states, this may results in enhanced punishment.
  • Was the arrest made in connection with a driving infraction? Many states have DUID (driving under the influence of drugs) laws that include marijuana. See Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana for more information.
  • Was the possession for plants or harvested marijuana? State laws may differ as to punishment regarding possession of plants versus possession of cut marijuana.
  • Did you have drug paraphernalia. State laws differ as to the legality of drug paraphernalia such as pipes, scales, bongs or other devices.

Marijuana Possession Penalties

For those charged with possession of under 1 kilogram of marijuana, not for resale or distribution, the misdemeanor marijuana possession charges are lowest for first offenders and then increase in their severity. In situations where the charge is based on sales of drug paraphernalia, the penalties can be increased to a felony if the item is sold to a minor child. Depending on the factors listed above, the penalties for possession can include:

  • a fine (typically up to $2000)
  • jail time (typically less than one year in jail)
  • mandatory drug testing
  • drug awareness classes
  • probation
  • electronic monitoring

Marijuana Possession Sentencing

Although possession of marijuana is typically not considered as serious as other types of drug or controlled substance charges, judges have sometimes imposed fairly stiff sentences even on first time offenders. As noted, the individual's age, prior convictions and overall standing in the community are typically taken into consideration as to what type of sentence is the most effective. For those that have a driver's license, suspension of the license can also occur and may be ordered by judges under specific situations. An attorney can assist in minimizing the sentence by working with the prosecuting attorney to plea bargain or agree to a treatment program rather than a conviction.

Marijuana Laws by State

Choose your state from the chart below to find information about your states laws regarding marijuana use.

State

Laws At-a-Glance

Marijuana possession, sale, and distribution is regulated by both state and federal law. In Alabama, marijuana is regulated as a “Schedule I” controlled substance.
Alaska Marijuana possession, sale, and distribution is regulated by both state and federal law. In Alaska, marijuana is regulated as a "Schedule VIA" controlled substance—this schedule identifies substances that have the lowest degree of danger or probable danger to individuals or the public. 
Arizona Possession of marijuana is a criminal offense. The penalties for possession depend on whether the marijuana was intended for personal use or for sale. In addition to the penalty of jail time, anyone convicted of possession will be required to pay a fine of up to $150,000, as determined by the court.
Arkansas Possession of a relatively small amount of marijuana is a misdemeanor, but possessing marijuana in larger quantities is a felony. Also, penalties are increased for repeated offenses.
California Possession of marijuana is a criminal offense. Penalties depend on the amount. Possessing marijuana for sale is treated as a separate offense.
Colorado In Colorado, marijuana is regulated as a controlled substance. (Co. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 18-18-102.) But as of 2012, Amendment 64 made it legal under state law for adults (people 21 years old or older) to possess and cultivate certian amounts of marijuana for personal use.
Connecticut Possession of marijuana is a criminal offense. Penalties depend on the amount. In July of 2011, the Connecticut legislature passed a bill decriminalizing possession and personal use of less than one half ounce of marijuana. Such possession is now considered a civil violation, subject to a fine of up to $150.
Delaware Knowingly possessing, using, or consuming any amount of marijuana (even small amounts for personal use) is an unclassified misdemeanor, punishable with up to three months in jail and a fine of up to $575.
D.C. Someone who knowingly or intentionally possesses marijuana is guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable with up to 180 days in jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both.
Florida Possessing 20 or fewer grams of marijuana is a first degree misdemeanor, punishable with up to one year in jail. 
Georgia It is a crime in Georgia to possess marijuana for personal use; or to buy, manufacture, or sell marijuana (or to possess it with the intent to do any of these things). Unlike most states, Georgia does not differentiate, for sentencing purposes, between possession for personal use and manufacture or sale.
Hawaii A person who knowingly possesses marijuana (in any amount) is guilty of a petty misdemeanor, punishable with up to 30 days in jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both.
Idaho A violation is a misdemeanor, punishable with up to one year in jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both. A violation is a felony, punishable with up to five years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.
Up to two and a half grams: A violation is a class C misdemeanor, punishable with up to 30 days in jail, a fine of up to $1,500, or both. Between two and a half and ten grams: A violation is a class B misdemeanor, punishable with up to six months in jail, a fine of up to $1,500, or both.
Indiana It is illegal to knowingly or intentionally posses marijuana in Indiana. Someone who cultivates marijuana plants (or fails to destroy marijuana plants that the person knows are growing on the person’s property) is also in violation of the possession law. Penalties vary according to the amount possessed.
Iowa First offenders will face up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. Penalties for a second offense include up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $1,500. Any subsequent offense is a felony, and carries up to two years' imprisonment and a fine of between $500 and $5,000.  
Kansas It is a crime to possess any amount marijuana (including small amounts for personal use) in Kansas. (Kan. Stat. Ann. § 21-5706(b)(3).) Violations are a class A misdemeanor, punishable with a fine of up to $2,500, up to one year in jail, or both. Second and subsequent convictions are level 4 felonies, punishable with up to 26 months in prison, and possible fines.
>Kentucky It is a crime to possess any amount marijuana (including small amounts for personal use) in Kentucky. Violations are a class B misdemeanor, punishable with a fine of up to $250, up to 45 days in jail, or both. (Ken. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 218A.1422.)  
Louisiana It is a crime to knowingly or intentionally possess any amount marijuana (including small amounts for personal use) in Louisiana. (La. Rev. Stat. § 966(E).) Penalties vary according to whether the violation is a first or subsequent offense.
Maine It is a crime to knowingly or intentionally possess marijuana Maine. (Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 1102.) Penalties vary according to the amount possessed, and may be increased for aggravating factors. Additionally, someone who possesses more than two and a half ounces is presumed to be in possession with the intention of selling marijuana
Maryland It is a crime to knowingly or intentionally possess any amount of marijuana Maryland (even small amounts for personal use). A violation is a misdemeanor, punishable with up to one year in jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both.
Massachusetts It is a crime to knowingly or intentionally possess marijuana in Massachusetts. Penalties vary according to the amount possessed, with additional penalties for minors in possession of marijuana.  
Michigan It is a crime to knowingly or intentionally possess any amount marijuana (including small amounts for personal use) in Michigan. Penalties include a fine of up to $2,000, up to one year in jail, or both.
Minnesota It is a crime to knowingly or intentionally possess marijuana in Minnesota. Penalties vary according to the amount possessed, measured as the total amount possessed within a 90 day period before the date of arrest.
Mississippi It is a crime to knowingly or intentionally possess any amount marijuana (including small amounts for personal use) in Mississippi. Penalties vary according to the amount possessed.
Missouri It is a crime to knowingly or intentionally possess any amount marijuana (including small amounts for personal use) in Missouri. Penalties vary according to the amount possessed.
It is a crime to knowingly or intentionally possess up to 60 grams of marijuana or up to one gram of hashish (including small amounts for personal use) in Montana. Penalties vary according to whether the offense was a first or subsequent violation. 
Nebraska It is a crime to knowingly or intentionally possess marijuana (including small amounts for personal use) in Nebraska. Penalties vary according to the amount possessed, and whether the offense was a first or subsequent violation.
Nevada Up to one ounce. Penalties for a first offense include a fine of up to $600, participation in a drug treatment program, or both. A second offense carries a fine of up to $1,000, drug treatment, or both. A third offense carries a fine of up to $2,000, up to one year in jail, or both. And a fourth or subsequent offense carries a fine of up to $5,000, between one and four years in prison, or both.
New Hampshire It is a crime to knowingly or intentionally possess marijuana (including small amounts for personal use) in New Hampshire. Penalties include a fine of up to $2,000, up to one year in jail, or both.
New Jersey It is a crime to knowingly or intentionally possess marijuana (including small amounts for personal use) in New Jersey. Penalties vary according to the amount possessed. Second and subsequent convictions may be punished with up to double the penalties.
New Mexico It is a crime to knowingly or intentionally possess marijuana (including small amounts for personal use) in New Mexico. Penalties vary according to the amount possessed, and whether the offense was a first or subsequent violation. Penalties increase if the violation occurs within a posted drug-free school zone.
New York Up to 25 grams: New York has decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana (at least as far as first and second violations are involved). Violations are considered civil citations (similar to a traffic violation), which incur a fine, but no jail time. There is a fine of up to $100 for a first offense, and up to $200 for a second offense.
North Carolina Up to one half of an ounce: Penalties include a fine of up to $200, up to 30 days in jail, or both.  Between one half ounce and one and a half ounces: Penalties include a fine of up to $500, between one and 120 days in jail, or both. The judge may order probation or community service in addition to, or  in lieu of some or all of the jail time.
North Dakota Up to one-half of an ounce:  Penalties include a fine of up to $1,000, up to 30 days in jail, or both.  Between one-half ounce and one ounce: Penalties include a fine of up to $1,000, up to one year in jail, or both.
Ohio It is a crime to knowingly or intentionally possess marijuana in Ohio. Penalties vary according to the amount possessed, with increased fines and jail time for second and subsequent convictions, and for offenses committed within 1,000 feet of a school. For offenses involving more than 100 grams of marijuana, the judge will suspend the defendant’s driver’s license for at least six months (and up to five years).
Oklahoma It is a crime to knowingly or intentionally possess marijuana (including small amounts for personal use) in Oklahoma. In addition to a possible fine, the judge will sentence a defendant to up to a year in jail for a first offense, and between two and ten years in prison for a second or subsequent offense.
Oregon Up to one ounce: Oregon has decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. Violations are considered misdemeanors that incur a fine between $500 and $1,000, but no jail time. However, if this offense occurs within 1,000 feet of a school, penalties increase, with a fine of up to $1,250, up to 30 days in jail, or both.
Pennsylvania It is a crime to knowingly or intentionally possess marijuana in Pennsylvania. For amounts up to 30 grams, penalties include a fine of up to $500, up to 30 days in jail, or both. Convictions for possessing 30 grams or more are punishable with a fine of up to $5,000, up to one year in jail, or both.
It is a crime to knowingly or intentionally possess marijuana in Rhode Island. Penalties include a fine of between $200 and $500, up to one year in jail, or both; and may increase for second and subsequent convictions. The judge may also order participation in a drug counseling or education program, and community service. 
South Carolina It is a crime to knowingly or intentionally possess up to one ounce of marijuana in South Carolina. Amounts exceeding one ounce are treated as trafficking crimes, explained below in "Manufacture, Distribution, and Trafficking." Penalties for possession vary according to whether the offense is a first or subsequent conviction.
South Dakota Two ounces or less: Penalties include a fine of up to $1,000, up to one year in jail, or both.  More than two ounces but less than one-half of a pound: Penalties include a fine of up to $2,000, up to two years in prison, or both.
Tennessee It is a crime to possess marijuana in Tennessee. It is also illegal to causally exchange (that is, with no payment) up to and including one half of an ounce of marijuana. Penalties vary according to the conviction, and increased penalties apply to offenses involving a minor.
Texas Two ounces or less: Penalties include a fine of up to $2,000, up to 180 days in jail, or both.  More than two ounces, but less than four ounces: Penalties include a fine of up to $4,000, up to one year in jail, or both.
Utah It is a crime to possess marijuana in Utah. It is also illegal to causally exchange (that is, with no payment) up to and including one half of an ounce of marijuana. Penalties vary according to the conviction, and increased penalties apply to offenses involving a minor. 
Vermont Less than two ounces; up to two plants (first offense): Penalties include a fine of up to $500, up to six months in jail, or both.  Less than two ounces; up to two plants (second and subsequent offenses): Penalties include a fine of up to $2,000, up to two years in prison, or both.
Virginia First conviction: Penalties include a fine of up to $500, up to 30 days in jail, or both.  Second conviction: Penalties include a fine of up to $2,500, up to one year in jail, or both.
Washington It used to be a crime to knowingly or intentionally possess marijuana in Washington. However, with the passage of Initiative 502 in 2012, adults are now free to possess up to one ounce of cannabis for their own private use.
>West Virginia It is a crime to possess any amount of marijuana in West Virginia. Penalties include a fine of up to $1,000, between 90 days and 6 months in jail, or both.
Wisconsin It is a crime to possess any amount of marijuana in Wisconsin. Penalties vary according to whether the offense is a first or subsequent conviction, with 100 hours of community service in addition to these penalties for possession within 1,000 feet of a school, youth center, public park, pool, housing project, jail, or drug treatment facility.
Wyoming
A defendant convicted of using or being under the influence of marijuana will be fined up to $750, spend up to six months in jail, or both. And while not covered here, additional penalties apply to driving while under the influence.

Get Legal Help For a Marijuana Possession Charge

Marijuana possession is a serious charge, even if it is at the misdemeanor level. With this type of conviction on your record, your ability to obtain employment under certain circumstances may be limited. Working with an experienced criminal defense attorney can provide options for lowering the charges or even arranging probation instead of jail time, with the option to later have your record expunged.

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