Sale of Cannabis: Definition and Penalties
In Florida, the sale of marijuana and other controlled substances (cocaine, opium, hydrocodone, oxycodone, meth, etc.) is governed by Section 893.13, Florida Statutes. Under the statute, a sale of marijuana occurs where:
- the defendant sold a substance,
- the substance was cannabis,
- the defendant knew of the presence of the substance.
The State of Florida is not required to prove that the accused knew of the illicit nature of the substance. Lack of knowledge of the illicit nature is instead an affirmative defense, which the accused must support with evidence at trial.
Section 893.13(1)(a) of the Florida Statutes classifies sale of cannabis as a third degree felony, with penalties of up to five years in prison, or five years of probation, and a $5,000 fine. Sale charges are among the most harshly punished drug offenses in all of criminal law. Even for first-time offenders, significant jail and/or prison time upon conviction is not only a possibility, but a probability.
Proving a Cannabis Sales Charge
Most sale charges in Southeast Florida (Palm Beach County, Broward County, Martin County, Baker County) arise from two factual scenarios. The first is the confidential informant. In these cases, a friend, associate, previous buyer, or “friend of a friend” is enlisted by law enforcement to arrange for a buy. Often, the informant is also facing the prospect of criminal charges and has agreed to assist police in order to obtain leniency or to avoid prosecution altogether. The sale transaction is then captured by audio and/or video to solidify the State’s case.
The second-most common factual scenario is the undercover officer. In these cases, police will receive a tip that a person is selling cannabis or some other controlled substance from a particular location. An undercover operative will then approach the suspect (in his residence, vehicle, place of business) and attempt to make a buy. The transaction is then allowed to proceed until a money-for-drugs exchange takes place. Once this occurs, police will conduct a take down or, if they suspect broader drug-dealing activity, will obtain a warrant to search the premises where the sale took place.
Due to the investigative techniques used by police in these cases, sale charges are generally among the simplest of drug charges to prove. Using the testimony of an undercover officer, or audio/video evidence obtained by a confidential informant, the State of Florida need only show that cannabis (or other controlled substance) was sold and that the accused knew of the presence of the substance.
Defenses to Sale of Cannabis
With all Sale of Cannabis / Controlled Substance charges, representation by an attorney can dramatically affect the outcome of a case. The first question to be asked, is whether there are legal defenses available to contest the charge. Legal defenses may arise where there is an unlawful search or seizure, or where the police engage in conduct amounting to entrapment.
The second question is whether there are factual defenses. Did a sale actually take place? Did the accused know what was being sold or know of its illicit nature? Was the defendant set up or falsely accused by an unreliable confidential informant hoping to arrange a “buy” in order to avoid punishment in his/her own case? Was the accused unfairly pressured by a law enforcement operative to engage in a sale that he/she was not predisposed to make?
Where there are no factual or legal defenses available, it is essential to make contact with the State Attorney’s Office early in the case in order to have the charge amended or to present mitigating evidence on the accused’s behalf. This can significantly reduce (or avoid altogether) jail or prison time that may be demanded later in the proceedings.
Contact An Attorney
If you have been arrested for sale of marijuana or other controlled substances in Palm Beach County, Florida, you should consult with a criminal attorney immediately to discuss your legal options. Sale charges are severely punished and effective representation can make a significant difference in the potential penalties you may be facing. contact attorney Steven Sessa today for a free consultation.