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In this video a suspect has a can of soda with a bag of cocaine inside. While trying to get the guy to admit to possession, a police officer tells the suspect that the weight of the entire package would be what he's charged with possession, saying it weighs about a pound (implying that the soda can's weight is included). I know that police officers in the United States are allowed to lie. Is this an example of the officer lying to the suspect to get him to admit to a smaller amount of cocaine, or is it true that for some reason the weight of the container is included when charging people for possession?

  • I don't think he means that the weight of the can is included (anyway, an aluminum can doesn't weigh anywhere near a pound). I think the point is that the can was full of soda, and now the suspect is in possession of 12 fluid ounces of "cocaine dissolved in soda", which is itself a controlled substance because it contains cocaine. So it's not that the container is included, but the "solvent" is (allegedly). I still don't know if the officer is correct in saying this, though. – Nate Eldredge Mar 13 at 19:20
  • For those not living in the US (or Burma or Liberia): A fluid ounce is about 30ml, so 12 fluid ounces are about 360ml. An imperial pound is about 450 grams (not 500). So @NateEldredge's explanation makes the original claim valid under the assumption that cocaine dissolved in soda has at least about 25% higher density than water - which I have no idea about, but may well be reasonable – Hagen von Eitzen Mar 14 at 13:48
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    @HagenvonEitzen: I don't think that's what was meant - for one thing, it's pretty clear that the suspect had nowhere near 90 g of cocaine. I was treating "about a pound" as an order-of-magnitude estimate. If you consider the weight of the liquid in the can (to which the cocaine itself contributes negligibly), then "a pound" is within a factor of 2 or 3 (keeping in mind that the can was not necessarily full). But an aluminum soda can by itself weighs about 15g - nobody would call that "about a pound". – Nate Eldredge Mar 14 at 14:08
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There is a slim chance that it is truish, depending on whose law you are asking about, and also depending on the facts (if the drug was in a baggie, it's unclear; it is was mixed with the soda, it's clear and it's true). As far as I know, the "baggie in can" theory has not been put to the appellate test (perhaps that is evidence that the can does not count). However, in the case Chapman v. US, 500 U.S. 453, defendant was convicted of the sale of LSD-laced blotter paper, and was sentenced accosting to the 5.7 gram weight of the blotter paper, not the 50 milligram weight of the LSD that it contained. SCOTUS upheld the sentencing based on the higher weight, holding that "The statute requires the weight of the carrier medium to be included when determining the appropriate sentencing for trafficking in LSD", because the statute is stated in terms of a "mixture or substance containing a detectable amount" (here, 21 USC 841, are some of the current laws, which repeated use the formula "mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of").

The question that would arise is whether a can containing a bag of something is a "substance" or "mixture". The ordinary meaning of "mixture" precludes that interpretation, but of course you also have to look at the legislative history to determine what Congress's intent was in writing these laws. Saying that a can with a bag is a "substance" is also counter-intuitive, but not as plainly unreasonable as calling a can and a bag a "mixture". In Chapman, the court observed that "Congress clearly intended the dilutant, cutting agent, or carrier medium to be included in the weight of those drugs for sentencing purposes", but again you might interpret "carrier medium" as referring to something other than "the means of carrying the drug" – "carrier medium" is not statutorily defined, and its "plain meaning" is broad (but also note that the statute doesn't mention "carrier medium"). In its ruling, the court appeals to "the history of Congress's attempts to control illegal drug distribution", and a careful study of all of the pertinent documents for this case might definitively rule in vs. out an interpretation that the weight of the container is to be included.

An obvious ludicrous consequence of including container weight is that if you are arrested for possession of a trace amount of a drug, found in your car, the weight of the car is to be considered and you get life in prison. It is plausible that the officer has a vague acquaintance with the Chapman-type ruling, and has misapplied the law, thus he has a good-faith belief that his claim is legally correct (thus he did not lie, he was simply wrong). Perhaps some DA has pursued the "drug plus can-weight" theory, but I doubt that has happened.

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