A man got himself into some legal hot water after he decided to spread Christmas cheer by gifting marijuana to customers and employees at a California Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant. The man allegedly wrapped marijuana in napkins before handing it to customers. The man also must have been thoroughly impressed with the food and service because he stuffed a large quantity of marijuana in the bartender's tip jar. The police responded and found that the would-be Santa had an additional two pounds of marijuana with him.
Serious Charges for Marijuana Distribution
While this story is amusing and borderline funny, the man would face very serious criminal charges if this had happened in Pennsylvania. In Pennsylvania, a charge of Delivery of a controlled substance is a felony offense. Pennsylvania law does not require that the marijuana is sold for money or provided in exchange for something else. The law merely requires that the drug was delivered, so giving marijuana to another person is illegal and constitutes a felony offense. Each time the man gave marijuana to a customer or worker would constitute another delivery charge, so the would-be Santa would be facing multiple marijuana delivery charges.
Aside from the actual distribution of drug charges, the man would also face a felony charge for Possession With Intent to Deliver (PWID) a controlled substance for the two pounds of marijuana that the police found. If a person possesses marijuana with the intent to use it, the criminal charge is a misdemeanor offense. If the police believe that a person possessed a drug with the intent to distribute it, then the charge is increased to a felony offense. The person's intent to distribute is generally proven through circumstantial evidence, and a primary factor is the quantity of drug involved. Here, the man possessed a large quantity of marijuana, so a prosecutor would have a strong argument that he possessed with the intent to deliver. Aside from the quantity of marijuana, the prosecutor could easily argue that the man's intent to distribute is clear in this situation because the man was caught in the act of gifting marijuana.
Pennsylvania Felony Conviction and Collateral Consequences
Aside from the criminal penalties that are imposed in the court system, a person with a felony conviction will also face collateral consequences. The phrase "collateral consequences" is used to explain punishments that are imposed outside of the court system. The judge imposes a sentence upon a person, and a sentence often includes payment of fines, a period of probation or incarceration, completion of counseling and community service, and license suspensions. Aside from the sentence, a person convicted of a felony charge faces very severe collateral consequences. For example, a felony conviction prevents a person from possessing a firearm, so a conviction can strip a person of his or her constitutional right to bear arms. Some felony convictions may result in a suspension of a person's constitutional right to vote. If the person is a state employee, a conviction could result in a loss of the person's retirement benefits. People who are professionally licensed through the state, such as doctors, lawyers, nurses, engineers, and realtors, face a suspension of a professional license for convictions of some offenses.
Regrettably, a person may plead guilty to a charge without knowing the impact that a conviction would have. The law does not require that a person is advised of all collateral consequences before pleading guilty. I often hear horror stories of people who plead guilty to a charge and find out later that the guilty plea has resulted in unexpected penalties. The common factor in such cases is normally that the person represented him or herself or the person hired an attorney that was not an experienced and reputable criminal defense lawyer. I am surprised at the number of people who spend more time researching a coffeemaker or vacuum online than they do researching an attorney. People searching for an attorney should consider factors such as experience, client reviews, professional awards, reputation in the legal community, and cost. While cost is a factor, it should not be the primary factor. Too often a person "gets what they pay for," and by paying a ridiculously low fee, they get a level of service or skill that is commensurate with that low fee. After the case is botched, it is often more expensive to fix the mistakes, if they can be fixed at all. Hiring an experienced and reputable attorney at the beginning of a case is critical to obtaining the best possible resolution.