Pennsylvania’s Drug Possession Laws
Pennsylvania drug laws make possession of certain controlled substances a punishable offense. If you’re charged under the state’s drug possession laws, the penalties you may face will depend on four main factors. The factors that influence penalties for these drug possession offenses include:
- What substance is involved
- The amount in your possession
- Past convictions
- The intent – whether it’s “simple possession” or “possession with intent to deliver”
35 PA. Stat. § 780-113 – Simple Possession of a Controlled Substance
35 PA. Stat. § 780-113 in the PA Controlled Substance Act covers Simple Possession of a controlled substance.
Definition of Simple Possession
The offense is defined as the act of “Knowingly or intentionally possessing a controlled or counterfeit substance by a person not registered under this act, or a practitioner not registered or licensed by the appropriate State board, unless the substance was obtained directly from, or pursuant to, a valid prescription order or order of a practitioner, or except as otherwise authorized by this act.”
Penalties for Simple Possession of a Controlled Substance
In Pennsylvania, Simple Possession is a misdemeanor. Penalties are:
- 1st Offense Simple Possession in Pennsylvania: Maximum of 1-year imprisonment, and/or a maximum fine of $5,000.
- 2nd Offense Simple Possession in Pennsylvania: Maximum of 3-year imprisonment, and/or a maximum fine of $25,000.
Marijuana is considered a Schedule I substance. In Pennsylvania, marijuana possession is a misdemeanor. Possession of no more than 30 grams can result in $500 in fines and/or 30 days of jail time. Possession of over 30 grams carries a maximum penalty of one year in jail. Jail time can also come with a $5000 fine. The first time you’re convicted of possession, you may be able to secure a conditional release — this means you may get a year or less of probation rather than jail time. If you’re found guilty of possession of marijuana charges and have previous convictions, your penalties may also be doubled.
THC and Hashish (Hash) Possession
Like marijuana, THC concentrates and hashish are Schedule I controlled substances. Under Pennsylvania drug possession law, possession of hashish is a misdemeanor. If you’re charged with possession of no more than 8 grams of the substance, you face a maximum imprisonment of 30 days. You may also face a maximum fine of $500, either instead of jail time or in addition to the imprisonment. If you’re convicted of possession of more than 8 grams, you may face up to one year imprisonment or a maximum fine of $5000.
Pennsylvania also classifies heroin as a Schedule I substance. Possession of the drug is subject to mandatory minimum sentencing, meaning a person can face up to one year in prison and a fine of $5,000, even if it’s their first offense and they are found with less than 1 gram of heroin. Sentences increase in severity for repeat offenses.
If a prosecutor believes that you had heroin in your possession and you intended to distribute it, the penalties are even more severe. For a first-time offense, you could face up to two years in prison based on the amount you had.
In Pennsylvania, cocaine is a Schedule II drug, meaning it has a high potential for abuse but can also provide some medical benefits. That said, the penalties for being found and charged with cocaine possession in the Commonwealth are steep. If a person is charged with possession of cocaine and it’s their first offense, it’s classified as a misdemeanor that can bring with it up to one year in prison and a $5,000 fine. A second offense can mean 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.
Methamphetamine, or “meth,” is also a Schedule II drug in Pennsylvania. The penalty if a person is convicted of meth 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.
MDMA (Ecstasy) Possession
As a Schedule I substance, MDMA, also called Ecstasy or Molly, is subject to mandatory minimum sentencing in Pennsylvania. 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.
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.
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 the 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 more than 1,000 pounds of marijuana can all result in felony charges. If you’re charged with possession with intent to deliver, you may also 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.
Defending Yourself Against Possession Charges
Drug possession charges can result in significant penalties and jail time. Convictions also carry 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 protecting 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 use in your case:
- Lack of knowledge or intent — In Pennsylvania, you can only be convicted of possession of a controlled substance if you intentionally and knowingly were in possession of 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.
- Small quantity of the drug — In some cases, the amount of drug found in your possession is so small that it is not covered by drug laws. When the amount is small enough, your attorney may also argue the drug was not knowingly or intentionally in your possession.
- The controlled substance belonged to someone else.
- A legal reason for the controlled substance — In Pennsylvania, you cannot be charged with drug possession if you’re a licensed or registered practitioner permitted to be in possession of the controlled substance. You also 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 be able to get charges dropped if he or she 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.
Find A Drug Possession Defense Attorney
A successful defense begins with hiring the right attorney. Your attorney can start building a defense for you and gathering evidence on your behalf. An attorney may also work to get the charges dropped. If this is not possible, he or she will advocate for a lesser sentence for drug possession – especially if it’s your first conviction – or for the smallest penalties possible.
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 to reduce your charges.
You don’t deserve to have your entire life ruined by a mistake. In many cases, it can be more difficult to rebuild your life if you have a conviction on your record or if jail time interferes with your rehabilitation and other efforts to overcome addiction. An attorney can work with you to ensure you have the best chance possible for a new life.
If you or a loved one has been charged with drug possession, contact MPL Law for a consultation. With a focus on defense and drug possession charges, we have handled multiple cases involving cocaine possession and other drug charges. We can listen to you and offer an honest and thorough analysis of your situation.
- Drug Charge Defense
Page Updated 15 February 2022
Reviewed by Richard Robinson