What are the different classes of drug possession?

Possession of illegal narcotics and mind altering substances is a crime throughout the United States. However, all drug crimes are not the same, and the classification of drug crimes and the penalties for drug crimes vary depending on the drugs in question, the quantities of said drugs and whether or not the offender was involved in a conspiracy to distribute the said drugs for commercial gain.

Possession of paraphernalia used for the manufacture, preparation or consumption of illegal drugs can also result in a possession charge. Paraphernalia in this regard can refer to bongs, syringes, rolling papers and a variety of pipes among other items.

Drug Possession (for personal use)

According to the Controlled Substances Act 1984, if it is proven in court that someone is guilty of any of the following offenses, they can be convicted of a simple possession offense. These are:

  • To have possession of a controlled drug
  • To smoke, consume or administer to him or herself, or to allow another person to administer to them, a controlled drug
  • To have possession of any piece of equipment for use in connection with the smoking, consumption or administration of a controlled drug
  • To have possession of any piece of equipment for use in connection with the preparation of a controlled drug for smoking, consumption or administration

Maximum penalties for a simple possession offense are $2000 in fines or imprisonment for two years or both for drugs other than cannabis. For cannabis, the penalties can depend greatly on the state, since attitudes about marijuana and the legal status of the drug is changing around the country these days.

Drug Possession (with intent to distribute)

An individual cannot be charged with possession with intent to distribute unless the possession and the intent to distribute have occurred at the same time. So, if an individual is only in possession of a small amount of an illicit substance that cannot be of any viable commercial value, but is more likely to have been kept for personal use, then that person cannot be charged with intent to distribute.

Similarly, if a person or group of persons have a conspiracy to acquire drugs to sell to make a commercial profit, but have not yet acquired the drugs in question, they cannot be charged with possession (with intent to distribute). However, they can be charged with the crimes of conspiracy to possess and attempt to possess, depending on the circumstances.

Drug possession for sale is usually charged as a felony offense. The specific penalties can vary depending on the state where the crime is charged, the previous criminal record of the accused and any evidence that the accused has ever sought treatment for a drug abuse problem. In some states, possession with intent to sell schedule II drugs, such as cocaine or methamphetamine, can lead to sentences of 2 to 4 years in a federal prison and fines of up to $50,000. In certain states, the occurrences of certain aggravating factors, like previous drug offenses or the illegal possession of firearms at the time of arrest, can lead to sentences of up to 40 years in prison.