Despite changing public perception, marijuana crimes remain serious

A marijuana possession charge can affect a JMU college students’ career, degree and extracurricular activities.

No matter your stance on the use of marijuana, it is clear that the legalization effort has made some strides to advance its cause. Four states have legalized the use of recreational marijuana, many more have authorized its use for medicinal purposes. At least one presidential candidate has stated that he wants to remove marijuana from the federal list of prohibited and dangerous substances.

For college students, a conflicting message

According to some polls, the population generally supports the legalization of marijuana, 52 percent to 45 percent. This percentage is higher among younger people. One city in Colorado is even using the taxes obtained from the sale of marijuana to provide scholarships for local kids to attend college. All this is to say college students can be forgiven if they are beginning to think that smoking marijuana occasionally is on par with drinking; not something to be advertised, perhaps, but not something that makes a person a criminal.

Yet it is important to remember that marijuana, including marijuana possession, is illegal in Virginia. Possession of less than half an ounce is normally a misdemeanor that can be punishable by up to one year in jail, depending on the criminal record of the accused. Possession of more than half an ounce is often charged as a felony, that is punishable by up to 10 years in prison, again depending on the criminal history and circumstances of the arrest.

Under federal law, marijuana is listed along heroin, ecstasy, and LSD as a Class I controlled substance. Distribution of marijuana can therefore bring significant felony charges and mandatory minimum sentences.

More is at stake for drug crimes than jail time

While most low-level marijuana possession offenses will not result in jail time, it is certainly possible for young people to receive a jail sentence as a result of the use and/or distribution of marijuana.Additionally, however, a criminal record can also have a lasting impact on a young person's career, education and extracurricular activities.

Employers are more likely than ever to conduct background checks on potential applicants, and with companies offering low-cost Internet background searches, it is easy for companies to check whether an applicant has ever been charged with or convicted of a drug crime. Graduate schools also frown on applicants with a criminal history, even for "minor" crimes like marijuana possession.

Do you have a JMU student charged with possession?

For students at James Madison University and other higher institutions of learning , the majority who try marijuana will not suffer any lasting legal consequences. But for students who are facing criminal possession or distribution charges, the ramifications can last far longer than anticipated.

If you have a child enrolled at JMU who is facing marijuana possession charges, The Law Office of Louis K. Nagy, PLC, can help. We can help your family understand your legal options, including whether to fight the charges or plea to a lesser offense. We can explore alternative sentencing options that may mitigate some of the penalties associated with a conviction for possession of marijuana. Contact our office to discuss your situation and next steps.