If you are determined to do drugs at Coachella, here are some tips to be smart about it. Coachella is crawling with undercover cops, and a felony arrest is the worst way to end your vacation. The law is very different for marijuana and other drugs, so I will address the issues relating to their use and sales separately:
1) Medical Marijuana
Marijuana is not legal in California. If you are a California resident with a valid prescription you may possess an amount of marijuana appropriate to your medical needs (don’t expect to get caught will a pound of bud in your backpack and avoid arrest because you have a card). Prescriptions from other states are also probably not valid.
2) Strictly Recreational Marijuana
Possession of less than one ounce of marijuana is an infraction, not a criminal offense. This means that if you are caught with less than an ounce, the police will just take your bud and issue you a ticket – similar to j-walking. A fine of a few hundred dollars is the highest penalty, and the ticket can be contested in traffic court, but there is no right to a jury trial. Possession of more than one ounce is a misdemeanor and can result in arrest, jail, and expensive fines.
Most troubling marijuana cases involve sales, possession for sales, or furnishing. A guy who shares his marijuana with another person is furnishing drugs, and is technically guilty of a felony. A person who gives his last joint to an undercover cop who repeatedly asks, even begs, for the joint will be arrested and charged with sales, especially if the person reluctantly accepts a $10 “donation” for the joint.
3) Meth, Cocaine, Ecstasy, and LSD
Possession of any of these drugs will result in arrest and a felony charge, including possible jail time. That said, there is a vast difference between simple possession (for personal use only) and possession for sale or actual sales.
When a person is charged with simple possession (personal use), they will typically be permitted to complete a drug program and have their case dismissed. People with extensive criminal records, especially “strikes” are sometimes excluded. Also, be warned that such charges may result in ineligibility for student financial aid and deportation for non-citizens.
Sales and possession for sales are completely different. Sales charges are non-reducible felonies and will typically involve real jail time. Police will look for a combination of factors when determining whether to charge for possession for sales or simple possession: 1) larger quantities of the drug; 2) separate or individual packaging; 3) large quantities of cash indicate sales; 4) multiple cell phones; and 5) written notes keeping track of drug sales. If you don’t want to be charged with sales, avoid any of these indicators.
4) Urban Legends (“Are you a cop?” and Entrapment)
It seems to be a typical piece of street wisdom among drug dealers and prostitutes that cops cannot lie to you if you ask directly before selling to them, “are you a cop?” This is complete nonsense. If you ask the undercover cop if he is a cop, he will tell you “no”, then buy drugs from you and arrest you. Police can and do lie to suspects. It is part of typical police technique and training.
Entrapment is also another common complaint coming from people who inadvertently sold drugs at the Coachella Music Festival. Suppose an undercover cop in tiny shorts and a bikini top flirts with you and asks ten times for a hit of X, so you go score some X for her from a friend of a friend you know is also at the concert. You will be charged with sales. You may possibly have an entrapment defense at trial, and it could work. But that won’t prevent you arrest, charging, and being brought to trial. Entrapment really amounts to a complicated legal defense at trial. The police can and will entrap you. Be prepared for a large investment of time and money getting your case in front of a jury.
5) How to Spot an Undercover Cop or Police Informant
Don’t even try, you can’t. The informant may be a sexy girl in a bikini (this is documented and very true) or a convincing stoner. Don’t give drugs to anybody you don’t know!
6) What do I do if I am Arrested?
Don’t make any statements to the police. Tell them you need to speak with an attorney first. Contact an experienced criminal defense attorney.