If you get charged with a drug offense in Pennsylvania, the possible consequences depend on the exact charges. It varies based on what drug you had, how much, where you were, what you intended to do with it, and prior offenses. Here are some of the possible penalties.
What Is the Penalty for Possession of Marijuana?
Marijuana possession typically has the lightest sentencing. It is a Schedule I controlled substance. This category also covers drugs like THC and hash.
Possession of up to 30 grams of marijuana is a misdemeanor. The possible maximum sentence is a $500 fine and up to 30 days in jail. Larger amounts of marijuana considered for personal use remain a misdemeanor, but the possible maximum sentence increases to a fine of up to $5,000 and up to a year in jail. If you have a second conviction, the penalties could be doubled.
THC and hash have similar penalties with one exception. To fall under the lower classification with lighter sentencing, the maximum amount is 8 grams instead of 30 grams.
What Is the Penalty for Felony Possession of a Controlled Substance?
Possession of certain types of drugs may automatically be a felony. These are typically Schedule II controlled substances that have a higher risk of causing addiction and harm from use. This includes drugs like cocaine, fentanyl, and meth. Many types of prescription drugs are also classified as Schedule II, and unlawful possession of them is often classified as a felony.
The most common felony sentencing guidelines are up to one year in prison and/or a $5,000 fine for the first offense. A second offense increases up to three years in prison and/or a $25,000 fine. For the purposes of determining a second offense, the first offense can be either a misdemeanor or a felony. The sentencing range can increase for larger amounts of drugs.
What Are the Penalties for Possession of Drug Paraphernalia?
Drug paraphernalia is possession of an object used to ingest, inject, inhale, or otherwise use illegal drugs. This charge is frequently coupled with drug possession charges, but you can be charged with possession of drug paraphernalia without the police finding drugs on you.
Possession of drug paraphernalia is a misdemeanor. The maximum sentence is one year in jail and/or a $2,500 fine.
What Is the Penalty for Possession With Intent to Distribute?
Possession with intent to deliver PWID or drug trafficking is a felony. It covers Schedule I and Schedule II drugs including marijuana, heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, and meth.
There is a range of potential sentences based on the type of drug, the amount of drugs, and prior convictions. There may be sentence enhancements or additional charges for things like weapons possession or domestic violence. Drug trafficking sentences go as high as up to 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The sentence is calculated according to sentencing guidelines using an Offense Gravity Score (which matches the severity of this offense) and a Prior Record Score (which increases the possible sentence for prior convictions). This can make it hard to estimate the potential sentence without asking a lawyer who understands the drug sentencing guidelines and facts of the case.
There is also a mandatory minimum sentence if certain aggravating factors are met. Normally, the judge can consider the facts of the case and the defendant’s overall history and decide on a sentence less than the maximum. Under the following circumstances, the judge may not go below the minimum sentence.
- Distributing drugs to a minor has a mandatory minimum sentence of at least one year in prison.
- There is a two- to four-year mandatory minimum sentencing range for selling drugs in a school zone. A school zone is within 1,000 feet of school property or 250 feet of a playground.
Can You Get Probation Instead of Jail or Prison Time?
Probation is usually an available sentencing option for misdemeanors and lower felonies. In Pennsylvania drug cases, this is usually simple possession of drugs or possession of drug paraphernalia. Probation requirements often include substance abuse counseling or rehab.
There are special programs designed for first-time offenders or those with a demonstrated problem with drug addiction. These programs may include the ability to avoid a conviction or at least guarantee that you get a sentence of probation if you participate. Probation is generally not available to those with a lengthy criminal record.
While probation is usually better than going to jail, you need to consider your ability to successfully complete probation. If you violate probation, the judge could sentence you to the maximum jail or prison time you were originally facing plus the sentence for any new offenses you committed when you violated your probation. Because of how restrictive probation is, there are some situations where a defendant prefers to negotiate for a jail sentence instead.
Can You Lose Your Driver’s License Due to a Drug Conviction?
Drug trafficking or manufacturing could result in having your driver’s license suspended. The suspension is up to six months for your first conviction, a year for your second conviction, and two years for any subsequent convictions.
If you’re also arrested for DUI, for example, you were under the influence of drugs or police found drugs in your car, you could face the usual DUI license suspension.
Can a Drug Conviction Affect Your Education?
A drug conviction can make you ineligible for federally subsidized student loans and other financial aid. This can include most forms of assistance that might be available directly from a school because the school likely receives federal funding.
Can the Government Seize Your Assets?
The government may be able to civilly seize assets used in the commission of a drug crime. This could include your house or your car if that’s where police found the drugs. Getting your property back is a separate proceeding from the criminal charges.
Contact an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney
Contact our office to speak to an attorney experienced in drug-related practice areas. If you’ve been charged with drug offenses or similar charges in Pennsylvania, we can help you understand the law and how to protect your legal rights. Contact us now to schedule a free consultation.