The high price of Federal Marijuana laws in a state where it is legal

The high price of Federal Marijuana laws in a state where it is legal

Prosecutors Push for Prison in Marijuana Cases Despite Legalization in New York.

Prosecutors in US District Court still call for prison for marijuana crimes, cite its status as illegal under federal law.

Marijuana plants grow in New York state. Marijuana is legal in the state, but it can still cause all kinds of legal problems for defendants at the federal level. 

Marijuana is legal in New York, but it can still cause all kinds of legal problems for defendants at the federal level. 

That includes the Capital Region’s Northern District of New York, where a prosecutor was quick to note that pot remains illegal federally.

“Through their elected representatives in Congress, the citizens of this country have made the distribution of marijuana a crime,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey C. Stitt wrote in a sentencing recommendation to U.S. District Judge Mae D’Agostino in the case of Bozidar Saranovic, of Fort Lee, N.J. 

Saranovic, 49, a native of Montenegro and a married father of two children who has no prior criminal record, previously pleaded guilty to one count of possession with intent to distribute more than one hundred kilograms of marijuana. Under federal law, Saranovic technically faces five to 40 years in federal prison for the crime. Federal sentencing guidelines dictate a far more lenient term of 18 to 24 months in Saranovic’s case. 

Stitt asked the judge to sentence Saranovic to an unspecified prison term.

“Despite momentum to legalize marijuana, it remains illegal in this country and the illicit trafficking of marijuana remains a lucrative undertaking with violent underpinnings,” Stitt stated. “In engaging in marijuana trafficking, the defendant evidenced disrespect for the laws of the United States.”

Of course, the laws of 24 states, including New York, legalize the recreational use of marijuana. Capital Region residents can legally purchase marijuana and not worry about any local criminal charges. What they clearly cannot do, according to Stitt, is transport marijuana the way Saranovic moved marijuana: in violation of federal law.

On July 26, 2021, Saranovic agreed to transport 300 pounds of marijuana from the Canadian border to New York City in a gray Mercedes Metris van in exchange for $18,000. State Police stopped Saranovic in Schroon Lake about 2 p.m.  A trooper learned that Saranovic was driving with a suspended license. Saranovic quickly told the trooper about the marijuana, which was kept in 312 heat-sealed packages within 14 cardboard boxes. 

“I lost a lot of money,” Saranovic said, according to his attorney.

Assistant Federal Public Defender John J. Gilsenan portrayed his client as a cash-starved and debt-ridden man whose three-employee window and door business had been crumbling due to the pandemic. Citing letters from Saranovic’s family and friends, Gilsenan said Saranovic’s arrest was an aberration for a man who had helped dozens of fellow Montenegrins integrate into America.

Saranovic’s conviction was a “singular moral failing in what has been an otherwise admirable life,” Gilsenan told D’Agostino.

He asked for a sentence of time already served.

Srdjan Djuretic, a Montenegrin who grew up with Saranovic in their native land, told the judge in a letter that Saranovic had been worried about caring for his wife and two children, ages 20 and 22.

“He was struggling, and he could barely provide for his family,” Djuretic wrote D’Agostino. “Unfortunately, he made a mistake and has fully accepted it.”

In his sentencing recommendation, Stitt was not offering leniency. He told the judge that Saranovic “furthered the interests of a drug trafficking organization by transporting bulk marijuana and being available to an organization which depends on mules like the defendant.”

Saranovic will learn his legal fate on Jan. 5.

His case is far from the only one in which the involvement of marijuana led to serious problems for defendants. Rosemary Coles, the 71-year-old now former member of the Troy school board, pleaded guilty in July to conspiring to move more than 1,000 kilograms of marijuana between California and the Capital Region. 

And more recently, Mufid Fawaz Alkhader, the 28-year-old Schenectady man charged with firing two shotgun blasts outside the Temple Israel synagogue in Albany on Dec. 7, faced a new charge — and the potential of 15 years in prison — specifically because federal prosecutors allege the Iraqi-born U.S. citizen was using marijuana at the time of the incident.

Much like it is against federal law for a convicted felon to possess a firearm, the use of marijuana makes a defendant unlawful to possess a firearm.

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Region: United States


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