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COA rules on first impression possession of marijuana issue

May 24, 2012

A woman’s objection over how much marijuana was being attributed to her led the Indiana Court of Appeals to apply for the first time Supreme Court precedent regarding possession of marijuana.

In Samantha Adams v. State of Indiana, No. 49A05-1107-CR-372, Samantha Adams appealed the denial of her motion to dismiss Class D felonies dealing in marijuana and possession of marijuana. Both charges were enhanced from Class A misdemeanors due to the weight of the drug involved. Adams claimed that the dried weight of the drug should have been around 17 grams instead of 69 grams. More than 30 grams leads to enhanced charges.

Adams disagreed with how the plants were weighed. The forensic scientist with the Indianapolis/Marion County Forensics Services Agency cut off the “mature stalks” of the plants – which would be the roots and stalk up to the first branch of each plant – and weighed the remaining leaves, immature stalks and stems together.  

On interlocutory appeal, Adams argued her due process rights were violated because Indiana Code doesn’t clearly state which parts of the plant are excluded from the legal definition of marijuana. The statute doesn’t define what “mature stalks” are, but does say that those are not included in the definition of marijuana. Adams introduced evidence that the Indiana State Police Lab sometimes excludes the entire stalk in its calculations of weight, and if that was done in her case, the weight would have been less than 30 grams.

The appellate court relied on Lawhorn v. State, 452 N.E.2d 915, 917 (1983), in which the Supreme Court, in looking at the cocaine dealing statutes, held that adulterated and not just pure forms of the drug could be used to support an enhancement.

The Court of Appeals had previously applied this decision to marijuana dealing and held that the issue of identifying mature stalks is irrelevant because it’s clear that the sentence enhancement may be supported by an adulterated form of marijuana, which includes “other vegetable matter” not included within the definition of marijuana, wrote Judge Patricia Riley.

But the judges had not yet addressed Lawhorn’s application to the provisions regarding possession of marijuana. The General Assembly has amended Indiana Code 35-48-4-11 to include “pure or adulterated” marijuana when defining the Class A misdemeanor, but did not include “pure or adulterated” when discussing the enhancement.

The judges concluded that the marijuana referred to in the enhancement can only refer to the “pure or adulterated” drug mentioned in the preceding sentence in the statute. They found the statute to not be vague or unconstitutional and affirmed the denial of Adams’s motion to dismiss.  

 

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