Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney

Posts Tagged ‘dea’

How Federal Marijuana Prosecutions Are Different Than California Cases

Monday, July 30th, 2012

A recent marijuana seizure off the coast of Southern California is a good example of how federal marijuana cases differ from marijuana prosecutions in California courts.  Most notably, the amount of marijuana seized by the Coast Guard was more than four tons.

Crew members on a U.S. Coast Guard cutter on Wednesday seized 8,500 pounds of marijuana worth an estimated $7.7 million.

The pot was confiscated from a Mexican “panga” boat about 160 miles west of Los Angeles by crew members of the San Francisco-based cutter Aspen, the Coast Guard said.  The drug was packaged in more than 340 bales.

You almost never see these kinds of quantities involved in state court marijuana cases in Los Angeles County Superior Court.  And this is no accident.  Federal prosecutors and federal criminal law generally focuses on big fish.  Rather than go after street-level distributors, the DEA, FBI, Coast Guard and other law enforcement agencies prefer to go after the leaders of large-scale drug conspiracies.

The Federal Sentencing Guidelines also provide extremely long sentences for a wide range of drug-related charges.  Moreover, additional penalties are imposed on people who are perceived to be leaders.  Here, for example, everyone arrested on the boast is facing a ten-year minimum sentence, plus huge enhancements for the quantity of marijuana seized on the boat.  For example, a first-time offender on the boat who was not the captain is facing up to an additional 151-188 months in prison.  The captain of the vessel as well as anyone who is charged with having greater involvement is facing even longer prison sentences.

And unlike sentences given out in some states, federal sentences cannot be reduced greatly for good behavior in prison. Generally, someone who is sentenced to 20 years in federal prison will serve at least 17 years of actual jail time.  Thus, in a case involving this much marijuana, everyone charged is facing decades in prison.

Even lawyers sometimes underestimate just how different federal court is when it comes to criminal law.  The law is different, as are prosecutors, judges, and juries.  Federal law operates by its own set of rules, which why it is critical to work with a criminal defense lawyer who is experienced in federal law and federal courts.


Is Heroin More Dangerous Than Marijuana?

Saturday, June 23rd, 2012

This is one of the questions that Drug Enforcement Agency Administrator Michele Leonhart refused to answer directly when she testified before Congress this week

This is hardly a difficult question, especially for anyone who knows anything about how drugs are regulated in the United States.  Ms. Leonhart has received a tremendous amount of criticism for dancing around this question while under oath.  Thousands of people have commented online, pointing out what pretty much everyone already knows: In terms of its addictive properties, physiological effects, and overall impact on human health, heroin is much more dangerous than marijuana.

It is easy to ridicule Ms. Leonhart’s testimony as ignorant and misguided. Many people have done so.  This criticism, however, fails to recognize an important connection between her words and the DEA’s actions with respect to marijuana.

As a criminal defense lawyer in Los Angeles, I come across lots of otherwise well-informed people who don’t fully grasp that in many respects the DEA actually treats marijuana as if it was a much more dangerous drug.  Her testimony wasn’t just words.  We are all aware of situations where, for political reasons, elected and appointed public officials say things they know aren’t true.  You might be tempted to conclude that the head of the DEA had some political reason for not providing the right answer to an easy question.

Here, however, her testimony genuinely reflects DEA policy that marijuana is dangerous.  This attitude helps explain why DEA agents have raided many marijuana dispensary in Los Angeles. Ms. Leonhart’s position also squares with the stepped-up enforcement against marijuana dispensaries and landlords who lease commercial space to dispensaries.   Federal law enforcement agents are increasingly threatening everyone with seizure and forfeiture actions, money laundering charges, etc.

Factually and scientifically, equating the dangers of heroin and marijuana is absurd.  Unfortunately, it is also consistent with the DEA’s recent actions.


Are Bath Salts Legal in California?

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

MDPV, Mephedrone 4 (aka 4-MMC), and Methylone (M1), the key ingredients in “Bath Salts” are, as of this writing, are in legal limbo in California.  However, earlier this year, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has enacted their emergency authority to prohibit possession or sales of these compounds.  The DEA has a year from the date of this “emergency hold” to decide whether or not to add bath salts to the list of Schedule I drugs.  From the DEA press release on the subject:

A Notice of Intent to temporarily control was published in the Federal Register today to alert the public to this action. This alert is required by law as part of the Controlled Substances Act. In 30 days or more, DEA intends to publish in the Federal Register a Final Order to temporarily control these chemicals for at least 12 months, with the possibility of a six-month extension. The final order will be published in the Federal Register and will designate these chemicals as Schedule I substances, the most restrictive category, which is reserved for unsafe, highly abused substances with no currently accepted medical use in the United States.

However in California, a recent law, codified under Health and Safety Code 11375.5, was just enacted which makes it illegal to sell/distribute/give away any “any synthetic stimulant derivative”, a misdemeanor offense.  The target offense on this is going after stores who sell “bath salts.”  However, simple possession of these synthetic stimulants is not a crime (not to be confused with the criminal possession of numerous other stimulants under Health and Safety Code 11377).

What is curious is the broad language in the statute.  After all, California already has Health and Safety Code 11378 which makes it a straight felony to sell a wide variety of controlled substances, stimulants such as MDMA and Amphetamine are some examples of stimulants covered by this statute.

Additional weirdness in 11735.5 is the specific exclusion of MDPV, which has been banned in other states and is widely agreed to be the predominate and problematic compound in bath salts.  The likely reason for this is that the legislature hopes that the ban on “any synthetic stimulant derivative” is enough to cover their bases when chemists undoubtedly figure out how to alter MDPV so that it is no longer MDPV, but an analog substance.

The Law Offices of Jerod Gunsberg are criminal defense lawyers who represent people accused of drug crimes and all other felony and misdemeanor offenses.