Q. A friend of mine was recently arrested for possession of about a pound of marijuana. He recently began growing marijuana for his own consumption. He lives and works in Oregon but he was on federal property (federal park grounds) when he was arrested for possession.
The criminal case was initially filed in State Court, but then the matter was transferred to Federal Court. Why was the case transferred and what happens to the state court charges?
A. A case can be prosecuted under the laws of the State, the Federal Government or by both. This is known as dual jurisdiction. Even though the criminal charges may look the same, the penalties are often substantially different. In addition, procedurally proving a crime in Federal Court is usually less difficult for the prosecution then proving the same case in State Court. The fact that the alleged crime occurred on Federal property is what triggered Federal jurisdiction over the matter.
It is not unusual for drug charges to originate in state court, but as soon as the Federal government files their own set of charges, the state will often dismisses the state charges and allow the Federal government take the lead in prosecuting the case.
One reason this happens is that the Federal system has far more money and resources than State courts do, and therefore there is a greater chance of obtaining a conviction– especially on drug cases involving marijuana.
Even in cases involving relatively small amounts of marijuana, the Feds current policy is to aggressively prosecute these cases and if possible impose extremely harsh sentences. While plea bargains are still possible in Federal Court, bargaining down drug charges rarely happens. The Federal hardline approach on marijuana still dominates, notwithstanding the dramatic shift in public opinion relative to the use and sale of marijuana at the state level.
The disparity in penalties particularly in marijuana cases between State and Federal jurisdictions is so substantial that it borders on the absurd – say nothing of its cruelty.
For example, possession and use of marijuana may be legal in Oregon, but be a Schedule I Drug Felony under Federal law. This might mean that a person in Oregon may not receive any fine or penalty whatsoever for possessing marijuana if the defendant is able to produce a valid medical marijuana identification card, but the same matter may result in a felony conviction with serious prison time if the defendant was convicted of essentially the same crime in Federal Court.
States Verses Feds On Crimes Involving Marijuana
How long the Federal Government can get away with imposing such severe sanctions for marijuana use and possession while most other states are now leaning towards legalizing it entirely is difficult to predict. The Federal Laws are simply so out-of-step with the rest of the country that it damages the governments credibility. Consider the fowling polls results:
A national survey released by Pew Research on April 4, 2013 showed, for the very first time, that the majority of Americans now favor legalizing the use of marijuana. The poll also showed that the vast majority of Americans, nearly 72 percent of them, now believe that the cost of Federal Law Enforcement efforts in battling marijuana use is no longer worth the money, resources or effort expended.