Many people use drugs for perfectly legal reasons every day. American citizens use prescription medication for countless ailments, and medical professionals administer controlled substances in controlled hospital settings. However, many people are also charged with and convicted of drug possession crimes in Philadelphia every day.
Penalties for drug possession can be very serious. You could be facing years-long prison sentences and tens of thousands of dollars in fines. With so much at stake, you need experienced legal counsel to mount an effective defense for you. We can gather evidence, speak with prosecutors, and prepare a strong legal defense to try and give you the best possible outcome for your case.
Call (215) 302-0171 for a free case review with our Philadelphia drug possession defense lawyers from The Law Offices of Lloyd Long.
What is Drug Possession in Pennsylvania?
It is a good idea to have an understanding of what exactly constitutes drug possession before examining penalties associated with it in Philadelphia. In law, to possess a drug, you have to be in possession of it knowingly. That may sound silly, but it actually requires two things to be found guilty of drug possession in court. First, you need to have actual or constructive possession of the controlled substance, and second, you must know that it is in your possession and that what you have is an illegal drug.
Possessing a Controlled Substance
Possession generally means that you have the controlled substance in your control. This is what is referred to as “actual possession.” For example, If you are holding a block of cocaine in your hands, you are in actual possession of a controlled substance.
Possession covers much more than having a drug for your own personal use. For example, if a friend gives you a block of cocaine to hold onto, you still have control over it even if it is not yours. “Holding it for a friend” is not a defense. The reverse of this situation – you giving the brick of cocaine to your friend – will also likely result in a finding that you are in possession of a controlled substance.
Additionally, you do not need to physically be in contact with the controlled substance to be in possession of it. If the brick of cocaine is in your car or your closet, you are still in possession of it, even though it is not on your person. This is called “constructive possession.”
Knowing You Possess a Controlled Substance
The second part of drug possession is the knowledge that you possess a controlled substance. In other words, you need to know that the substance you have on you is, in fact, illegal. For example, if your friend gives you some brownies and you do not have any reason to suspect that they are in fact edibles, you cannot be found to be in possession of a controlled substance because you did not know what you were holding onto was illegal. However, if your friend hands those same brownies and tells you “I baked pot into these brownies”, you will be found to be in possession of a controlled substance because you know that the meth contained in the bottle is illegal.
As a practical matter, it is difficult to prove that defendants did not know the thing they were holding onto was not an illegal drug. This is generally a fact-specific determination that will vary greatly for each defendant. For example, if your friend gives you a dime bag of green plant matter labeled “herbs,” the facts would indicate that you likely knew you were in possession of marijuana. However, other factors could make it more or less likely that you knew you were in possession of a controlled substance. Based on the specific facts of your situation, our Philadelphia drug possession defense lawyers can work to present your case in the best possible light before a court to try and get your drug charges reduced or dropped entirely.
The Pennsylvania Controlled Substances, Drugs, Device, and Cosmetic Act
The Pennsylvania Controlled Substances, Drugs, Device, and Cosmetic Act (PA Controlled Substances Act) is the act that governs controlled substances in Philadelphia. This law was initially passed in 1972, soon after the United States began its “war on drugs” under the Nixon administration. Accordingly, there are harsh penalties associated with drug possession and trafficking in Philadelphia. Our drug possession defense lawyers know this and, as such, will fight hard to give you the best possible outcome in your case.
The PA Controlled Substances, Drugs, Device, and Cosmetic Act creates schedules of drugs in Pennsylvania as well as certain penalties relating to drug crimes.
Drug Schedules in Philadelphia
Controlled substances are classified into five “schedules,” or tiers, under the PA Controlled Substances Act. Schedules classify drugs based on their addictiveness, medical use, and other factors. Drugs classified under higher-ranking schedules are more seriously criminalized that drugs in lower schedules.
Schedule II Drugs
Schedule I is the most dangerous and heavily criminalized drug schedule in Pennsylvania. Per the Pa Controlled Substances Act, Schedule I drugs are those drugs that have no “currently accepted medical use” and have a high potential for addiction and abuse, even in a medical setting.
The list of drugs on each schedule is extensive. Examples of Schedule I drugs include heroin, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), marijuana, 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (Ecstasy), many variants of morphine, and methaqualone (Quaaludes, a drug similar to barbiturates).
Despite the fact that marijuana is a Schedule I substance, Pennsylvania has begun to allow its use in a medical setting and to allow prescriptions of medical marijuana. If the law continues on the trajectory of becoming more accepting of marijuana use – in medical contexts or otherwise – it is unlikely that it will remain a Schedule I controlled substance. However, under Federal law marijuana is still a Schedule I drug, and there will likely be conflict as to the schedule and legality of marijuana in the future until there is agreeance between federal and state law.
Schedule II Drugs
Schedule II drugs are just about as dangerous as Schedule I drugs. However, drugs on Schedule II have some accepted medical uses, so they are not quite as severely criminalized. Make no mistake, though: a criminal penalty associated with Schedule II drugs will still be quite hefty.
Examples of drugs that fall under Schedule II include many opiates, like fentanyl, methamphetamine, and Adderall.
Since many of the drugs on Schedule II have legitimate medical uses, many people become addicted to them after starting to use the drug through a prescription. The frequency of recreational use of certain Schedule II drugs has also created an extensive illegal market for them.
Schedule III Drugs
Schedule III drugs are again a step lower in addictiveness than Schedule II drugs. Schedule III drugs also have accepted medical uses.
Commonly known Schedule III drugs include anabolic steroids and ketamine.
Schedule IV Drugs
Many Schedule IV drugs are frequently prescribed medications. While their addiction risk is yet lower than prior schedules, that does not mean that people cannot be addicted to Schedule IV substances.
Schedule IV controlled substances you might know include Xanax, Ambien, and Lunesta. Unlike drugs on prior schedules, you are likely able to walk out of a pharmacy with these substances, provided you have a prescription.
Schedule V Drugs
Schedule V is the least dangerous and addictive schedule of drugs. The schedule is defined by a low level of risk for addiction or abuse. Well-known drugs that are Schedule V controlled substances include many cough medicines.
Simple Possession a Small Amount of Marijuana in Philadelphia, PA
“Simple possession” refers to having small amounts of controlled substances on your person or in your constructive possession. A “small amount” covers marijuana in amounts of 30 grams or less and is criminalized by 35 Pa.C.S. §780-113(a)(31). The penalty for possession of a small amount of marijuana is no more than 30 days in jail or a fine of no more than $300.
Possession With Intent to Distribute in Philadelphia, PA
Drug trafficking is heavily linked to drug possession. After all, one needs to possess controlled substances to traffic them. Possession with intent to distribute is criminalized by 35 Pa.C.S. §780-113(a). Essentially, the crime is that you have a controlled substance and you are planning on giving it away or, more likely, selling it. Penalties for drug trafficking crimes in Pennsylvania are laid out in 18 Pa.C.S. § 7508. These penalties are heavily focused on marijuana and cocaine. This is a function of many of Pennsylvania’s drug statutes having their origins in the “war on drugs” throughout the 1980s. Although this law has been amended many times, with the most recent being in 2017, the original DNA of the statute from the 80s remains, thus the extreme focus on marijuana above other drugs. We will go through the statute and penalties related to the possession of marijuana in Philadelphia below.
Quantities of Marijuana Less Than Ten Pounds
Pennsylvania law penalizes possession with intent to distribute marijuana in quantities between two and ten pounds (or between five and 21 live plants) with up to one year in prison and $5,000 in fines. Alternatively, a greater fine can be issued with the purpose of using up any proceeds from the sale of weed.
If the convicted defendant has another drug trafficking offense on their record, the penalty is up to two years in prison and a fine of $10,000.
Quantities of Marijuana Between Ten Pounds and Fifty Pounds
For quantities of marijuana between and including ten pounds and less than 50 pounds, the penalty is three years in prison and fines up to $15,000 or an amount sufficient to exhaust proceeds from illegal sales of drugs. This penalty also applies to the possession of plants in quantities between 21 and 51 live marijuana plants.
Quantities of Marijuana Fifty Pounds or Greater
For quantities of marijuana 50 pounds or greater, the penalty is five years in prison and a $50,000 fine. Again, the fine can be substituted for a greater fine that eliminates proceeds from illegal sales of marijuana. This also applies to live plants in quantities great than 51 plants.
Cocaine in Quantities Greater Than Two Grams
For quantities of coca leaves or any derivative of coca leaves (cocaine powder) greater than two grams but less than ten grams, the penalty is one year in prison and fines up to $5,000 or enough to wipe out proceeds of the sale. However, if, at the time of conviction, the defendant has another drug trafficking offense on their record, the minimum prison sentence is three years, and the fine is $10,000.
Cocaine in Quantities of At Least Ten Grams
For cocaine quantities of at least ten grams but less than 100 grams, the prison sentence is three years with a fine of $15,000 or a sufficient fine to do away with any money earned from selling cocaine. If the defendant has a prior trafficking conviction, the minimum prison sentence is five years, and the fine is $30,000.
Cocaine in Quantities of At Least One Hundred Grams
For cocaine in amounts greater than or equal to 100 grams, the penalty is five years in prison and $30,000 in fines. If the defendant has a prior drug trafficking offense on their record, the penalty is instead seven years in prison or a fine of $50,000.
Methamphetamine in Quantities of At Least Five Grams
If you are convicted of possession of methamphetamine(meth) in a quantity of at least five grams but less than ten grams, the penalty is a minimum of three years in prison and a fine of $15,000. This fine can be increased to eliminate any proceeds from the sale of illegal methamphetamine. If the defendant has another drug trafficking conviction
Meth in Quantities of At Least Ten Grams
For meth in amounts including and greater than ten grams but less than 100 grams, the penalty is a minimum of four years in prison with a minimum fine of $25,000. For defendants with prior drug trafficking convictions on their record, the minimum sentence is seven years in prison and a minimum of $50,000 in fines.
Meth in Quantities Including and Exceeding One Hundred Grams
The penalty for possession and trafficking of meth in amounts of 100 grams or more is a minimum of five years in prison and $50,000 in fines. Again, the penalty is greater for people with prior drug trafficking convictions on their record. In those cases, the minimum prison term is seven years, and the minimum fine remains $50,000.
Call Our Philadelphia Drug Crime Defense Lawyers to Review Your Case
If you are in need of legal assistance, call our Philadelphia drug possession defense lawyers from The Law Offices of Lloyd Long at (215) 302-0171 for a free, confidential case review.