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Drug Possession Laws and Penalties

Posted on June 23rd, 2017

Getting caught with possession of illegal substances for use or sale can lead to serious legal consequences in Pennsylvania. The Keystone State takes drug offenses very seriously, with prison time and hefty fines for most convictions. Penalties vary based on the type of drug, quantity, and reason for possession. For example, possession with intent to sell typically results in greater penalties than possession for personal use. Learn drug laws and the costs of breaking them in West Chester.

Marijuana Laws

As more states legalize marijuana for medicinal and recreational use, the line between what is and is not legal has grown fuzzy. Despite the signing of a medical marijuana law in April 2016, the Medical Marijuana Program of Pennsylvania remains unimplemented in the state. Once the program starts, it will institute a 30-day supply limit on patient possession (with a valid medical card and qualifying condition). As of today, possession of marijuana for any reason can result in penalties of:

  • Possession, 30 grams or less. Misdemeanor with 30 days incarceration and maximum fines of $500. Possession, more than 30 grams. Misdemeanor with one year of incarceration and maximum fines of $1,000. Subsequent convictions can lead to doubled sentences.
  • Sale or distribution. Penalties range from 30 days to 10 years of incarceration and $500 to $100,000 in fines depending on the amount of marijuana discovered. The possession for sale of 30 grams or less is a misdemeanor, while any greater amount results in a felony charge. Within 1,000 feet of a school or 250 feet of a playground, possession for sale can result in two to four years in prison.

In many cases, a defense attorney will try to argue down a “possession for sale” charge to just a “possession” charge, as the penalties are much softer. This may be possible if there is no hard evidence of the intent to sell the drugs, especially if in possession of a small amount.

Other Drug Laws

Possession of cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, illegally obtained prescription drugs, and other controlled substances will also result in penalties. It is a felony to possess narcotic drugs, with possible sentences of up to 15 years in prison and fines of $250,000 or more. The courts may increase fine amounts to exhaust any profits made from the sale of illegal drugs. Again, possession with intent to sell will result in heftier penalties than simple possession. The nature of the penalties will vary depending on the type of drug, the person’s existing criminal record, and the details of a specific case.

It is also illegal to be in possession of certain drug paraphernalia. “Drug paraphernalia” includes any item possessed or used for the purpose of creating, planting, growing, manufacturing, preparing, packing, storing, ingesting, or inhaling drugs. These laws apply to pipes, bongs, grinders, rolling papers, needles, and scales. The officer must have reason to believe the defendant possessed the paraphernalia in relation to drugs to make an arrest on the grounds of Pennsylvania’s drug laws.

Defending Against Drug Charges

There are several potential defenses in criminal cases based on the possession of drugs. One of the most common is to allege an illegal search and seizure. If an officer did not have probable case or a warrant to make a stop, search, or detainment, the courts may throw the entire case out. Keep in mind that police can search a home without a proper warrant if someone is in danger or if the police believe someone might destroy evidence or a suspect might escape.

A skilled attorney might be able to use a violation of the defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights to render evidence inadmissible in court. To learn more about potential defenses in drug-related cases, talk to our Philadelphia defense attorneys.