Possession Of Marijuana In Arizona: Charges & Penalties

Marijuana joint or other marijuana products can still be illegal in Tucson Arizona

Marijuana laws are changing rapidly throughout the country.  Twenty-one states, including Arizona, now have laws allowing the regulated use of medical marijuana.  Two states, Colorado and Washington, have now legalized the recreational use of marijuana.  Over time, more will likely follow.  I wouldn’t be surprised if federal laws regarding marijuana eventually change as well.  As of now, however, possessing marijuana is still a crime in Arizona unless you are licensed through the state as part of the medical marijuana program.  Even then, it is still technically a federal offense.

Possession Of Large Amounts of Marijuana

Possession of Marijuana in Arizona essentially means possessing less than two pounds of marijuana for personal use.  There’s a good chance that anything over this amount will be considered to be for sale or distribution.  Even if it is not, the offense will carry a mandatory prison sentence.  If you possess between two and four pounds of marijuana for personal use, rather than sale/distribution, it is a Class 5 Felony.  Even for a first offense, you can be sentenced to up to 2.5 years in prison.  If the amount is over four pounds, even if for personal use, it is a Class 4 Felony.  A first offense is punishable by up to 3.75 years in prison.  While these penalties are less severe than similar offenses involving other types of drugs, they are obviously still very serious.

Simple Possession / Possession Of Under Two Pounds Of Marijuana

If you possess under two pounds of marijuana in Arizona for personal use, you will normally be charged with a class six felony.  In cases involving very small amounts of marijuana in Tucson, misdemeanor charges are not uncommon.  The maximum penalty for a first-time Class 6 Felony is 2 years in prison, but Arizona law requires a sentence of probation in these cases.  If you violate or reject your probation, a prison sentence may be imposed.

You can be charged with the illegal possession of marijuana even if you have a valid medical marijuana card. The card won’t help you if you’re not complying with the medical marijuana laws. Common examples of this are possessing more than the amount allowable and/or using marijuana in a public place.

Pima County Drug Court

Sometimes these simple possession cases are transferred to the Pima County Drug Court.  There are two types of drug court: “Post-Conviction Drug Court” and “Deferred Judgment Drug Court”.  The first type is not a voluntary program.  These cases are be transferred to Drug Court at sentencing and the defendant must participate in a program that involves intensive treatment, regular court appearances, urinalysis, education, counseling, and fees, for a minimum of 18 months.

“Deferred Judgment Drug Court”, on the other hand, is a voluntary program for those who are eligible.  The program has one big advantage:  the charges are dismissed upon successful completion of the program.  The program itself is essentially the same as the post-conviction drug court program except that it may be completed in 12 months.  To be eligible for Deferred Judgment Drug Court, you must:

  • Be charged with a probation eligible drug offense
  • Have no prior felony convictions for violent or sexual offenses
  • Have no other pending felony charge
  • Be a legal resident of the U.S.
  • Be a resident of Pima County
  • Be willing to fully participate

Clearly, marijuana possession is still a serious crime in Arizona despite the changes that seem to be sweeping the nation.  If you are charged with possessing marijuana in Arizona, there are still many defenses that may apply in your case.  As always, it is best to consult with an experienced criminal defense lawyer before you make any decisions.

* This blog is published by Tucson DUI and criminal defense lawyer Nathan D. Leonardo. Nothing on this website is intended to create an attorney-client relationship. The information provided herein does not constitute legal advice, but is for general information purposes only. If you have a legal question, you can contact us online or call (520) 314-4125.


  1. Cindy Castillo on August 6, 2014 at 5:20 pm

    Thanks for this awesome and informative article. I have posted it on my Google+ page, and hopefully my clients will explore your site for more helpful information. Thanks for putting it out there.

    • Nathan Leonardo on August 8, 2014 at 1:20 am

      You’re welcome! I appreciate the positive feedback.

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