A Columbia University student was caught in a campus drug bust late last year when trying to sell $5,000 worth of marijuana to an undercover police officer. He faces one year of drug treatment rather than prison time, however. After successfully completing the treatment, this student will have the opportunity to withdraw his plea and have the charge dismissed.
This case is notable as it shows the impact of New York’s recent enlightened approach towards punishing first-time low-level drug offenders. Prior to 2009 with the “Rockefeller” Drug Laws (named after one of the masterminds behind the law in the 70s, Gov. Nelson Rockefeller), the Columbia student may have found himself facing a minimum of one year in prison, even for a first offense. The change in policy presented a new shift in giving the court greater leniency to determine sentencing based on the facts surrounding the case rather than from mandatory guidelines.
There were four other students involved in the Columbia University drug bust, though these students were not admitted into the drug diversion program. They may face more serious consequences. Under N.Y. Penal Law § 220, repeat and high-level drug offenders can face significant jail time and / or fines. This state law includes possession of a controlled substance, criminal sale of a controlled substance, drug distribution, drug trafficking, and a number of other offenses. Since marijuana is classified separately than other drugs in New York’s drug statutes, marijuana offenses are found under a separate statute (N.Y. Penal Law § 221) and includes unlawful possession of marijuana along with possession of marijuana in a public place.
There are multiple factors that will be taken into consideration by the court, including, but not limited to: the type and quantity of drugs in question, location in which the alleged offense took place, constitutionality of the search, and the repeat nature of the offense. However, it’s important to remember that an arrest for drug crimes does not necessarily mean that conviction will follow.
An experienced drug attorney in Queens, or whichever borough the alleged offense was committed in, can help determine the most favorable defenses to pursue and find weaknesses in the prosecution’s case. An attorney can also assist with student disciplinary hearing proceedings, which is most likely in the future for any university student implicated in such a situation on campus.