Ambrosio E. Rodriguez

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Trafficking Arrests Surge Following Marijuana Legalization in California

Recreational marijuana has been legal in California for over a year. Since then, marijuana trafficking arrests at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) have surged by 166 percent. While it’s legal to walk around with small amounts of the drug, having large quantities in your possession is still a crime.

Legalization Prompts Increase in Transport of Marijuana

In 2016, there were 20 marijuana trafficking arrests at LAX. In 2017, the number of arrests for marijuana trafficking nearly doubled to 38. Last year, the first year in which recreational marijuana was legal, police arrested 101 people on trafficking charges. Some of these people may have simply been transporting more than the legal amount for their own consumption. Others were likely moving the drug to a state where marijuana has not been legalized.

What is Drug Trafficking?

In California, drug trafficking typically refers to moving a controlled substance with the intent to sell. Under California Health & Safety Code Section 11360 HSC, it’s a crime to do or attempt to do any of the following things with usable amounts of marijuana:

  • Transport
  • Import into the state
  • Sell
  • Furnish
  • Administer
  • Give away.

This does not apply to small amounts of legally-obtained recreational or medicinal marijuana.

You can only be convicted under 11350 HSC if you knew that you possessed a substance that was marijuana.

Marijuana Trafficking is a Felony

While it’s legal to transport your own small personal marijuana stash, it’s illegal to transport more than 28.5 grams at one time. If you’re discovered trafficking a larger quantity of the drug than is legal, you can face felony criminal trafficking charges.

A felony marijuana trafficking conviction is punishable by two, three, or four years in a California state prison. With a felony on your record, you will also experience collateral consequences. Collateral consequences are non-criminal but can have a significant impact on your life. You may find that you lose your right to own a gun, experience difficulty finding a job, and are no longer qualified to receive certain government benefits.

Marijuana Still Illegal At the Federal Level

California police will allow you to carry small quantities of marijuana at the airport. However, you may want to think twice before trying to get your stash through security. TSA agents are federal employees. Even though their primary job is to find weapons and potential threats to passenger safety, they will notify law enforcement if they discover marijuana while you’re going through security.

Even if you make it through security, airplanes fly through federal airspace where federal drug laws apply. If you’re found in possession of drugs on the plane, you’ll be subject to those harsh federal laws.

Under federal law, drug trafficking involves distributing drugs across state lines or national borders. The penalties for violations of federal drug trafficking laws depend on the type and quantity of the drug involved. However, sentences can range from anywhere between 5 years to life in federal prison. You may also be required to pay substantial seven-figure fines.

If you’re traveling by air, it’s best to leave your legal marijuana at home. If you have too much in your possession, you could face California trafficking charges. Even if the state isn’t bothered by the drugs in your pocket, federal agents may be. Federal drug charges are no laughing matter. An arrest and subsequent conviction – for something that’s legal in California – can have devastating consequences that follow you for the rest of your life.

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