Ask a Weed Lawyer: How Do I Smoke Weed Without Going to Jail?
Use your head, head.
John Bussman is a criminal defense attorney in Orange County, California. He is an expert on marijuana law, a member of the NORML Legal Committee, and a longtime supporter of drug policy reform.
If you’re reading this, you probably smoke weed, and you’re probably not in jail. Here are some practical tips for keeping it that way. Some of this stuff is common sense. If you’ve made it this far in life without experiencing incarceration, you’re already doing something right.
If you have a doctor’s recommendation to use medical marijuana, remember that your letter is not a “get out of jail free” card.
If your state allows some form of medical marijuana, your doctor’s recommendation can be a great insurance policy against minor, possession-related busts. A recommendation is most helpful if it comes from your primary care doctor—the person you would see if you had some other medical ailment.
If you got your rec from some hole-in-the-wall “clinic” where you spoke to a stranger over Skype, it might not be the kind of legal document that you feel comfortable relying upon in court. Just imagine a situation where you’re accused of some potentially serious marijuana-related crime, and your lawyer is preparing a “medical” defense. Unfortunately, the doctor who wrote your recommendation is M.I.A., or he comes to court and testifies that he has no recollection of ever meeting you. Suddenly, your discount rec doesn’t sound like such a good deal.
If you have a doctor’s recommendation to use medical marijuana, your letter is not a “get out of jail free” card. It may provide a defense to some marijuana-related criminal charges, but many of my clients are surprised to learn that they still don’t quite have diplomatic immunity. You can be cited or arrested for driving while impaired in most places. Depending on the state, smoking in public, selling your meds, or possessing more than your prescribed limits still carries significant penalties.
If you don’t live in a medical marijuana state, and you insist on breaking the law, my best advice is to only break one law at a time.
If you are possessing marijuana illegally, don’t start a bar fight or shoplift. If your driver’s license is suspended, don’t carry weed in the car. If you have an outstanding warrant for missing a court date, don’t cultivate at home. If you do cultivate at home, don’t steal electricity.
If this advice sounds intuitive, good. It should. The truth, though, is that very few of my clients are arrested for breaking only one law. If you commit one crime at a time, few people notice. You attract unwanted attention when you violate multiple laws simultaneously.
If you are arrested or detained by police for some marijuana-related crime, the smartest thing to do is to politely refuse to answer any questions other than to identify yourself.
The name of the game is not making yourself a priority for lazy cops who really don’t want to arrest you anyway. A lot of enforcement is complaint-driven. The neighbors get tired of some nuisance activity (excessive smell, noise, traffic, litter, etc.), and they call the police. Now you’re a priority. That’s what we want to avoid. Show some courtesy, be a good neighbor, and encourage your guests to do the same. A little manners go a long way when you’re trying to fly under the radar.
If you are arrested or detained by police for some marijuana-related crime, the smartest thing to do is to politely refuse to answer any questions other than to identify yourself. It bears repeating: Talking to police is almost always a bad idea.
If you voluntarily answer questions and attempt to explain yourself, you are virtually guaranteed to dig yourself into a hole that will only make your life more difficult.
Don’t lie, cry or threaten to sue anybody; that’s your lawyer’s job (the threatening to sue part). Don’t insult the officers or ask them whether or not they “have anything better to do” (If they’re arresting you, there’s your answer).
And definitely don’t consent to a search of your property.