Arizona’s statute of limitations for drug crimes is 7 years, which means that someone can be arrested for simple marijuana possession but not be formally charged by the authorities until years later – sometimes up to 7 years later. Those affected just sit in limbo wondering if they’ll ever be charged or if their case will be thrown out by prosecutors.
Aside from people with a valid Arizona medical marijuana card, possession of any amount of marijuana is a felony in Arizona, even for first time offenders, The State Press reported. Typically, first offenses of a small amount of marijuana get pleaded down to misdemeanor charges. In some cases, the offender is offered a diversion program like TASC – which is expensive. Meanwhile, horrific crimes, such as sexual assaults, only have a 2-year statute of limitations in Arizona.
“Frequently, we have clients that get charged two or more years after the offense,” said attorney David A. Black. “I’ve seen where a student, who might have been a freshman when the offense occurred, getting charged with a felony nearing the end of his or her senior year – for possessing a joint years earlier.”
Arizona’s lingering statute of limitations for drug possession can have a particularly negative impact on Arizona’s college students – many of which are from out-of-state. Sometimes students graduate, move back to their home states and start a career when, suddenly, they get charged for a marijuana possession arrest that happened during their freshman year. A felony charge can lead to job rejection, housing rejection and even rejection from other education institutions.
Attorney Bret Royle said, “The whole thing is completely avoidable in my mind. There’s just no reason that simple possession of marijuana should be a felony.” He continued, “While I understand that the issues surrounding marijuana decriminalization or legalization are tremendously complex, it seems obvious to me that a small amount of marijuana for personal use shouldn’t be a felony.”
If Arizonans vote to legalize recreational marijuana use in 2020 via the Smart & Safe Arizona ballot initiative, anyone 21 years of age and older will be able to possess and use marijuana legally. Until then, marijuana will remain a felony in Arizona.