United States v. Abdulaziz (1st Cir. June 2021)

The Federal Docket

Sentencing Guidelines/Prior Convictions – A prior conviction for a marijuana offense under a state law that does not distinguish between marijuana and hemp, as defined under federal law, does not constitute a prior conviction for a “controlled substance offense” under the Sentencing Guidelines.

Abdulaziz was convicted under 18 USC 922(g) for unlawfully possessing a firearm as a convicted felon. His sentence was enhanced based on his prior conviction under Massachusetts law for possessing marijuana with the intent to distribute, which the district court found was a “controlled substance offense” under the Guidelines.

The First Circuit reversed and vacated Abdulaziz’s sentence. Because the 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp, defined as any part of the cannabis plant as long as it contains less than 0.3% THC, the federal definition of “controlled substance offense” no longer applied to hemp. Abdulaziz had been sentenced after the 2018 Farm Bill became law.

At issue was whether his Massachusetts conviction for a marijuana offense could still be considered a “controlled substance offense.” The First Circuit concluded it could not, since the law he was convicted under did not distinguish between marijuana, a controlled substance, and hemp, a legal product. While Massachusetts and other states have since legalized hemp and redefined it according to the federal definition, Abdulaziz had been convicted under the previous law where marijuana and hemp alike were controlled substances. The Court held that a “controlled substance offense” is defined under federal law, not state law, as it exists at the time of sentencing.

The First Circuit joined the Ninth Circuit in holding that a prior conviction under a state law that does not distinguish marijuana from hemp does not constitute a “controlled substance offense” under the Sentencing Guidelines.

On appeal from the District of Massachussets
Opinion by Barron, joined by Kayatta and Smith (by designation from D.R.I.)

Click here to read the opinion.

Tom Church - Tom is a trial and appellate lawyer focusing on criminal defense and civil trials. Tom is the author of "The Federal Docket" and is a contributor to Mercer Law Review's Annual Survey in the areas of federal sentencing guidelines and criminal law. Tom graduated with honors from the University of Georgia Law School where he served as a research assistant to the faculty in the areas of constitutional law and civil rights litigation. Read Tom's reviews on AVVO. Follow Tom on Linkedin.

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