Drug Possession Laws in Pennsylvania

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Pennsylvania’s Drug Possession Laws

Pennsylvania has strict laws regarding the possession of controlled substances. The illegal possession of drugs can carry harsh sentences, including fines and jail time. However, it’s essential to know that a charge is not an automatic conviction.

This guide will teach you the laws and sentences for drug possession in Pennsylvania so you can understand what to expect if you are facing a possession charge.

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Pennsylvania drug laws make possession of certain controlled substances a punishable offense. Controlled substances are divided into five categories called schedules, depending on the drug’s level of addictiveness, potential for abuse and medical acceptance in the United States. Schedule I has the highest potential for abuse or addiction, and Schedule V has the lowest.

Below are examples of drugs in the various schedules:

  • Schedule I: Heroin and marijuana
  • Schedule II: Cocaine, oxycodone and methadone
  • Schedule III: Codeine and aspirin combinations and buprenorphine
  • Schedule IV: Clonazepam, alprazolam and diazepam
  • Schedule V: Phenergan with codeine and Robitussin AC

Penalties for possession of drugs depend on four main factors:

  • The type of substance involved
  • The amount of controlled substance in your possession
  • Past convictions
  • The intent

The intent could be simple possession or possession with intent to deliver.

What Is a Simple Possession Charge in Pennsylvania?

Simple possession occurs when a person intentionally or knowingly possesses a controlled substance without license or registration. The charge assumes that the accused possessed the drugs for personal use. This is opposed to possession with the intent to deliver.

Simple possession is one of the easiest ways prosecutors can prove a drug possession charge. Fundamentally, they must prove that the accused had the illegal drug on their person or under their control. For example, suppose a police officer stopped and searched your car and found cocaine. The law would assume you intended to use the drugs unless there is evidence of the contrary.

What Is Possession With the Intent to Deliver in Pennsylvania?

Possession with the intent to deliver or distribute occurs when a person possesses controlled substances likely meant for distribution. In other words, considering all relevant facts, the accused did not possess the drug for personal use. Several factors can influence this charge, including the following:

  • The amount of controlled substances
  • The presence of packaging materials
  • The presence of excessive paraphernalia
  • Amount of cash held at the time of the arrest
  • Evidence of communication with customers

Instead of proving an actual sale or delivery, the prosecutor may prove this charge by demonstrating intent. Intent is a question of fact inferred from the circumstances stated above.

Penalty for the Possession of a Controlled Substance in Pennsylvania

The penalties depend on the type and amount of drugs in the accused’s possession, previous convictions and intent. Generally, simple possession is a misdemeanor and attracts lesser penalties. Possession with the intent to deliver is a felony, with the exception of Schedule V drugs.

Below is a list of some drug charges and sentences in Pennsylvania:

1. Marijuana Possession

Simple marijuana possession in Pennsylvania is considered a misdemeanor. First-time offenders possessing under 30 grams can get a maximum fine of $500. The maximum jail time is 30 days. First-time offenders possessing 30 grams of marijuana or above for personal use can be fined a maximum of $5,000 with or without one year of incarceration. The court may also order a conditional release for first-time offenders, meaning they get one year or less probation instead of jail time.

Subsequent offenses attract a maximum fine of $25,000 with or without three years of incarceration. Possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute carries a maximum fine of $100,000 with or without a 10-year jail time if the amount of marijuana exceeds 1,000 pounds.

2. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Hashish Possession

Like marijuana, THC concentrates and hashish are Schedule I controlled substances. Possessing hashish is a misdemeanor. People possessing under 8 grams can face a maximum fine of $500 with or without a jail time of up to 30 days. Possessing more than 8 grams carries a maximum fine of $5,000, a one-year incarceration or both.

3. Heroin Possession

Heroin is a Schedule I substance under Pennsylvanian drug law. Possession of the drug is subject to mandatory minimum sentencing. First-time offenders apprehended with small amounts of heroin can face up to one year in prison and a fine of $5,000.

Second-time offenders possessing below 2 grams of heroin can face a jail time of up to two years. Third and subsequent offenses can attract three years of jail time or harsher penalties. Possession of heroin with the intent to distribute comes with stricter implications, as well. For a first-time offense, you can face up to five years of imprisonment, plus fines, depending on how much was in your possession.

4. Cocaine Possession

In Pennsylvania, cocaine is a Schedule II drug, meaning it has a high potential for abuse but can also provide some medical benefits. The penalties for being found and charged with cocaine possession in the Commonwealth are steep. First-offense cocaine possession charges are classified as misdemeanors. They can carry up to one year in prison and a $5,000 fine. A second offense can result in up to three years in prison and up to a $25,000 fine.

If a person is convicted of possession with the intent to sell cocaine, it’s a felony that brings with it up to 15 years in prison and at least a $25,000 fine.

5. Methamphetamine Possession

Methamphetamine, or meth, is a Schedule II drug in Pennsylvania. The penalty for possession varies based on the amount of the drug they had and what they intended to do with it. If a person is convicted of simple possession of fewer than 5 grams of meth, they can face up to one year in prison or $5,000 in fines. If the person is convicted of possession with intent to sell, they can face at least three years in prison, depending on the amount.

6. Ecstasy Possession

As a Schedule I substance, ecstasy, also called methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) or Molly, carries a mandatory minimum sentencing. The conviction penalties for MDMA range from one year in prison or a $5,000 fine for a first-time offense to at least five years in prison and a $25,000 fine for possession of over 100 grams with the intent to sell.

7. PCP Possession

Pennsylvania classifies phencyclidine (PCP) as a Schedule II drug. A person charged with simple possession of less than 2 grams of PCP can face up to a year in prison and be subject to a $5,000 fine. Simple possession is a misdemeanor offense.

If a person is convicted of possession of PCP with the intent to sell, the penalty can range from two years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000 for up to 10 grams to five years in prison and a fine of up to $25,000 for more than 100 grams.

8. Oxycodone Possession

Oxycodone is often prescribed legally to people who have moderate to severe pain. However, the drug has a high potential for abuse and dependency and is classified as a Schedule II substance in Pennsylvania. It’s legal to possess the drug if you have a valid prescription, but you could face a misdemeanor or felony without one.

Simple possession of oxycodone without a prescription is classed as a misdemeanor and can lead to up to a year in prison or a $5,000 fine. If a person is convicted of planning to sell oxycodone, the penalty can include at least two years in prison and a fine of $5,000 or more.

Felony Drug Possession

Possession of certain types of drugs is classified as a felony in Pennsylvania. Possession of cocaine, meth, PCP, isomers and over 1,000 pounds of marijuana can all result in felony charges. If charged with possession with intent to deliver, you may face up to $250,000 in fines and up to 25 years in jail. In some cases, the fines are even greater if the defendant made more than $250,000 in profits from illegal drug activity. In these cases, the fines will be increased to cover all the profits.

Possession of Drug Paraphernalia

In addition to possession of drugs, you may also be charged with possession of drug paraphernalia. This offense carries a maximum fine of $2,500 and a maximum jail time of one year. This charge is usually made in addition to a drug possession charge.

Possible Defenses in Possession Controlled Substance Cases

Drug possession charges can result in significant penalties and jail time. Convictions also carry a stigma and can affect your life long after your trial. A conviction can make it more difficult for you to move on and rebuild your life, and can even take away your freedom.

If you have been charged with possession or any drug offenses, it’s important to contact a drug possession lawyer right away. Authorities will immediately start building a case against you, and you’ll want someone by your side to protect your constitutional rights. An attorney can make sure no one uses illegal methods to find evidence against you and can challenge any weak or illegally-obtained evidence.

For example, there are many defenses a good attorney may be able to use in your case:

  • Lack of knowledge or intentIn Pennsylvania, you can only be convicted of possession of a controlled substance if you intentionally and knowingly possessed the drug. An attorney may be able to argue that you were not aware of the laws, didn’t know what the substance was, or otherwise lacked the intention and knowledge required for a conviction.
  • Possession of a small quantity of the drug: The law sometimes sets thresholds for possessing controlled substances. If your possession falls below the specified limit or amount, your attorney may argue that you are innocent of a more serious charge.
  • Presence of legal basis: In Pennsylvania, you cannot be charged with drug possession if you’re a licensed or registered practitioner permitted to possess the controlled substance. Furthermore, you cannot be convicted or charged with possession if you have a doctor’s order or prescription for the substance.
  • Illegal process by police or other authorities: An attorney may get charges dropped if they can prove the police used entrapment to charge you. If police used unlawful means of search and seizure, the evidence may also be tossed out by the court.

Why You Need a Criminal Defense Attorney

Drug possession charges can result in fines and jail time. A conviction can also affect other aspects of your life, including access to employment opportunities and your reputation. If you have been charged with possession or any drug offenses, it’s crucial to contact a drug possession lawyer immediately. Criminal defense lawyers can assess your case and help you develop a strategy through:

  • Knowledge and experience: Drug possession cases can be technical, and a criminal defense attorney can help you understand your options. Hiring a criminal defense attorney enables you to navigate legal issues effectively.
  • Case assessment: An attorney can assess your case and offer tailored advice. They can examine the facts, evidence and law to estimate your chances of success.
  • Litigation strategy: A skilled attorney can develop a litigation strategy to increase your chances of success. Depending on the situation, they can help you get a reduced sentence or an acquittal.
  • Representation: Criminal defense attorneys can represent you during negotiations or court proceedings.

Why Trust MPL Law Firm

A successful defense begins with hiring the right attorney. In reality, Pennsylvania laws are there to protect you, even if you have been charged with drug offenses. Your right to representation and due process means you have the right to an attorney. A lawyer who is well-versed in possession laws and drug trafficking laws understands the way courts work and may reduce your charges.

At MPL Law Firm, we dedicate resources to helping clients through their legal challenges. For over 40 years, we have partnered with residents in and around York, Pennsylvania, to provide effective legal solutions. Our attorneys have a deep knowledge of the drug possession laws and can help you navigate the complex terrain.

We listen to our clients to understand their needs and develop practical approaches to achieve the best possible results. We value honesty and transparency, which has enabled us to build longstanding relationships with our clients. Our innovative and forward-thinking approach is the secret to our success.

Contact Us Today for a Consultation

If you or a loved one has been charged with drug possession, contact us now for a consultation and case evaluation. With a focus on defense and drug possession charges, we have handled multiple cases involving cocaine possession and other substances. We can listen to you and offer an honest and thorough analysis of your situation.

Updated on 6/12/2024

Reviewed by Richard Robinson

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