Sacramento Kings power forward Zach Randolph faces a felony drug charge after Los Angeles police officers arrested him Wednesday night near L.A.’s Nickerson Gardens housing project. The 36-year-old former NBA All-Star was charged with possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. The police were dispatched to this location in response to a large crowd that had blocked a roadway. The crowd was reportedly engaged in smoking and playing loud music. It is unclear what role Randolph may have played in the disruption before his arrest. Randolph was jailed on $20,000 bail. Within hours he was released from the custody of the L.A. Sheriff’s Office.
Possession of marijuana can trigger a felony charge in California if law enforcement officers believe that the defendant had sold or delivered marijuana to a person under the age of 18. Depending on the age of the marijuana purchaser/recipient (among other factors), a convicted defendant can be sentenced to between three and seven years in prison.
According to TMZ, Randolph was found with about 2 pounds of marijuana—obviously, a substantial amount. TMZ also reports that the marijuana was found in a large backpack on Randolph’s possession.
It is unknown whether police observed Randolph sell or distribute or have other direct evidence of a transaction or exchange—such as an incriminating text message or an implicating paper trail. However, it is common in drug prosecutions for prosecutors to try to establish a defendant’s intent by leading the jury to infer from circumstantial evidence. A large amount of a drug found in the defendant’s possession is a key form of circumstantial evidence: from it, jurors can conclude that the defendant must have been selling and distributing. Further, if the marijuana on the defendant’s possession had been packaged for sale and distribution and if significant amounts of cash were also found, jurors would have additional clues in ascertaining the defendant’s intent.
Recreational use of marijuana is legal in California under certain situations, none of which appear to benefit Randolph
Randolph’s arrest may come as a surprise given that California is one of eight U.S. states where certain amounts of marijuana can be lawfully consumed for recreational purposes—at least under certain conditions. That kind of “wishy-washy” description highlights how marijuana is not completely legal in any state. States that have legalized marijuana for recreational purposes have done so with strings attached. Those strings include restrictions on who can lawfully purchase and sell marijuana, and the amount of marijuana a person can lawfully possess.
These restrictions are essential for a number of reasons. Public safety is one, but the interplay between federal and state laws is also important. Despite recent developments at the state level, marijuana remains illegal under federal law. Not only is marijuana illegal under federal law, but it is grouped with very dangerous drugs. The federal Controlled Substances Act criminalizes marijuana (cannabis) as a Schedule 1 prohibited substance, meaning it is classified alongside heroin and LSD. This classification indicates that the federal government believes marijuana has a high potential for abuse and offers no accepted medical treatment. While many health experts would disagree with those conclusions, the law is the law.
Under President Barack Obama, the Justice Department declined to enforce the federal marijuana prohibition when states legalizing marijuana also promulgated accompanying public safety regulations. It remains unclear if the Justice Department under President Donald Trump will continue with this approach. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has voiced strong opposition to states legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes, though he has not announced any concrete plans to act on that view.
For its part, California limits the lawful possession of marijuana by persons who are at least 21 years old to 28.5 grams. Unfortunately for Randolph, who stands 6’9” and weighs 260 pounds, the legal limit isn’t size-adjusted. Even if it were, it wouldn’t permit the large amount of marijuana allegedly found on his possession: 2 pounds is roughly 907 grams, or roughly 32 times more than California’s legal limit.
Impact of the felony charge on Randolph’s NBA career
Neither the NBA nor the Kings has taken any disciplinary action against Randolph. Neither likely will until there is resolution in his case.
Although Randolph has been charged with a felony, he might be able to reach a plea deal where the felony charge is reduced to a misdemeanor. Alternatively, Randolph could elect to take his case to trial and hope that he disproves the allegation. In the meantime, expect both the NBA and Kings to wait.
Although Randolph’s situation involves drugs, it is not entirely resolved by the NBA’s Anti-Drug Program. He did not fail a drug test. Had he done so, he would be subject to the league’s Marijuana Program, which is outlined in Article XXXIII of the collective bargaining agreement. In the NBA, a player is not suspended for marijuana until his third positive test, at which point he faces a five-game suspension. Randolph’s arrest might lead him into the Marijuana Program but that is not his chief concern.
Instead, Randolph should be worried most about the impact of a felony charge. Under Article VI of the NBA’s CBA, a player who is convicted, pleads guilty or pleads no contest to a violent felony “shall immediately be suspended by the NBA for a minimum of ten (10) games.” Thankfully for Randolph this clause does not apply to his situation. Not only has he not yet offered a plea, but drug possession is not a violent felony.
Randolph, however, can still be punished under Article 35 of the NBA Constitution. NBA Commissioner Adam Sliver can invoke Article 35 to suspend players for any “conduct that does not conform to standards of morality or fair play, that does not comply at all times with all federal, state, and local laws, or that is prejudicial or detrimental to the NBA.” This sweeping language offers Silver substantial discretion to suspend Randolph.
Silver likely will not issue any punishment of Randolph until Randolph’s case is resolved. Silver, though, has suspended players for criminal offenses. Last October, he suspended Darren Collison after the Kings guard—now Indiana Pacers guard—pleaded guilty to misdemeanor domestic battery. Depending on the outcome of Boston Celtics forward Marcus Morris’ upcoming trial for aggravated assault, Silver might be issuing another suspension soon. It is worth noting that under Article XXXI, an NBA player who is suspended for more than 12 games can appeal it to a neutral arbitrator.
For their part, the Kings could also elect to punish Randolph, whom the team signed to a 2-year, $24 million contract last month. Like the NBA, however, the Kings will probably wait to see how Randolph’s legal matter plays out.
Randolph has experience dealing with legal issues as an NBA player. In 2009, Randolph was arrested for DUI. At the time Randolph played for the Los Angeles Clippers, who suspended Randolph for two games. Randolph has also been accused other misconduct, including an allegation in 2016 that he strangled a woman in a L.A. hotel. Randolph has also been suspended for on-court misconduct. The NBA suspended Randolph for one game in 2014 for punching Oklahoma City Thunder center Steven Adams in the jaw.
A final concern for Randolph is whether his arrest might jeopardize his endorsement income. According to Forbes, Randolph has endorsement deals with Panini and Nike. Those deals likely contain “morals clauses” which would empower the endorsed company to extinguish their financial obligations to Randolph on account of his arrest. However, expect Randolph’s sponsors to wait on invoking a morals clause until more information surfaces.
The Crossover will keep you updated on developments in the Randolph case.
Michael McCann, SI's legal analyst, provides legal and business analysis for The Crossover. He is also the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the University of New Hampshire School of Law.