Seven tons of marijuana were found by Customs and Border Protection officers inside a commercial tractor trailer which was carrying furniture over the Otay Mesa border entry on April 29. This is an unusually large drug bust, even by San Diego standards.
How the Authorities Found the Marijuana
The old truck pulled into the Otay Mesa cargo area just after 9:30 in the morning. The Customs officers used an imaging system to scan the truck when it arrived, and the scan aroused their suspicion, especially after the driver said the boxes were filled with furniture. The Customs officials then opened the boxes in the truck, which contained 587 wrapped marijuana packages. The street value is estimated to be $7.1 million. The driver, a 47 year-old Mexican man, was taken into custody and turned over to the Department of Homeland Security. Although seven tons is a large drug bust, it is not the largest drug seizure ever at the Tijuana border crossing. In 2015, Customs and Border Protection officers seized 16 tons of marijuana, and in 2013, 17 tons of marijuana were seized.
Penalties in California for Importation and Distribution of Marijuana
The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) targets and deals aggressively with crimes involving large quantities of marijuana smuggled from Mexico into California. Drug importation charges are serious, and even one charge of importing marijuana or attempting to import marijuana can lead to a four year state prison sentence.
California Health and Safety Code 11360 HS
California Health and Safety Code 11360 HS prohibits the selling, giving, importing into the state, or transporting for sale any amount of marijuana. The simple possession of marijuana in California for personal use is a non-criminal infraction, but violation of 11360 HS is a crime. There is an exception this law, however, for those transporting medical marijuana for personal use, or if someone is transporting it to give to a patient who has a legal prescription. In that case, however, the amount being transported must be related in some reasonable measure to the medical needs of the patient.
Misdemeanor or Felony?
A violation of Health and Safety Code 11360 can be treated as a misdemeanor or a felony. It will depend on the type and amount of marijuana involved. It will also depend on whether sale or importing was involved.
Transporting or Gifting 28.5 Grams or Less
Transporting for sale, or for giving away, one ounce (28.5 grams) or less of marijuana (except for concentrated cannabis), is a misdemeanor in California. Misdemeanor violations of 11360 HS are punishable only with a fine of up to $100. There is no jail time for this misdemeanor violation.
Transporting or Gifting More than 28.5 Grams
Transporting for sale, or for giving away, more than an ounce (28.5 grams) of marijuana, or of any amount of concentrated cannabis, is a felony under 11360 HS. Felonies under the statute are punishable by either two, three, or four years in county jail. If you are convicted of a felony in California, you will have to disclose it on applications for employment, and you will be banned for life from owning a firearm. These are very serious consequences for what could be a very small amount of marijuana.
The Sale or Import of Marijuana
Bringing marijuana into the state of California, either from a different state or over the border from Mexico, is a felony no matter how much or how little, and whether it is marijuana or concentrated cannabis. This is also punishable by either two, three, or four years in county jail. The penalties are extreme and frankly disproportionate with the crime. There is no distinction made between the person with a couple ounces of marijuana and the man smuggling seven tons over the Mexican border. Therefore, if you are caught with more than an ounce of marijuana in your possession, it is imperative you contact an aggressive criminal defense attorney before you talk to the police.
There are Alternatives to Jail Time in Some Cases
In some cases, there are alternatives to prison time under 11360 HS. Drug diversion (drug treatment) is sadly not one of those options; for some reason it is only available for charges of simple possession, or cultivation for personal use. You may be eligible, however, for California felony probation.
Being granted probation does not mean you will avoid jail altogether, but you will not serve more than one year. In some cases jail can be avoided entirely. There will be many other conditions you are subject to if you are given probation, however, including regular drug testing, regular meetings with a probation officer, community services, and warrantless searches. Even with all of these conditions, however, probation is preferable to jail.
Defenses to 11360 HS
If you are arrested and charged with violations of 11360 HS, all hope is not lost. There are some defenses available. You are not guilty if you did not know the pot was in the vehicle, or if you are entitled to use medicinal marijuana. If you were giving the marijuana away, rather than selling it, that can sometimes serve to lessen the charges against you or even result in acquittal. If you were somehow entrapped into committing a crime by the police, or the marijuana was found during an illegal search or seizure, in most cases the charges against you will be dismissed outright. What is important is to have a good criminal defense attorney working on your case from the moment you are arrested to figure out the best way to defend you and keep you out of jail.
If you are being charged with a violation of 11360 HS, do not hesitate to call Ozols Law Firm. It is critical for you to have an experienced San Diego criminal defense lawyer on your side, so you don’t face the same prison sentence somebody smuggling seven tons of marijuana over the border from Mexico faces. Mr. Ozols will review your case and advise you whether or not you have any affirmative defenses we can raise that can help mitigate or eliminate criminal liability.