The law is always complicated, but the laws governing illegal drugs in Pennsylvania are exceedingly complex. What do you need to know about drug laws in Pennsylvania? What are the penalties if you are convicted of possessing, selling, or manufacturing illegal drugs in this state?
If you’ll keep reading, you’ll learn the answers to these questions, and you will also learn what steps to take if you are charged with possessing, selling, or manufacturing illegal drugs in Pennsylvania.
WHAT ARE PENNSYLVANIA’S CURRENT MARIJUANA LAWS?
Let’s start with marijuana. In 2016, Governor Tom Wolf signed Senate Bill 3. This bill legalized the medical use of cannabis with a physician’s approval for the treatment of seventeen qualifying medical conditions.
Pot is still illegal in Pennsylvania for recreational and unauthorized medical use. State law defines a “small” amount of marijuana as 30 grams or less and 8 grams or less of hashish or cannabis concentrates.
If you are convicted of possessing a “small” amount of marijuana, it is treated as a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail, a maximum fine of $500, or both.
Some cities in Pennsylvania, however, have passed their own ordinances allowing for lesser penalties. Conviction for possession of a small amount of marijuana is penalized with a $25 fine in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh; in Harrisburg, it’s a $75 fine.
WHAT ABOUT SMALL AMOUNTS OF OTHER DRUGS?
Aside from small amounts of marijuana, and with several other exceptions explained below, if someone possesses a small amount of an illegal drug for personal use, the charge is usually a misdemeanor, and the sentence for a conviction is up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $500.
A drug conviction will also be penalized with a driver’s license suspension in Pennsylvania, even if the offense did not involve a vehicle.
FOR HOW LONG CAN YOUR DRIVER’S LICENSE BE SUSPENDED?
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation will suspend the driver’s license of anyone convicted of possession, sale, delivery, or trafficking illegal drugs in a federal court, a Pennsylvania court, or any other state court in the U.S.:
- For a first drug conviction, the license suspension period is six months.
- For a second drug conviction, the license suspension period is one year.
- For a third or subsequent drug conviction, the license suspension period is two years.
Working with a good defense attorney from the very beginning is the best way to protect your driver’s license if you are charged with any drug crime in Pennsylvania.
WHEN IS DRUG POSSESSION A FELONY IN PENNSYLVANIA?
Possession of meth, PCP, cocaine, medical isomers, or 1,000 pounds or more of marijuana is a felony. If the charge is possession with intent to deliver, the penalty can be a prison term of up to twenty-five years and $250,000 in fines – or more if the criminal profits exceeded $250,000.
While possession with intent to deliver is any transfer of illegal drugs from one party to another, the for-profit purchase, sale, delivery, or importation of illegal drugs into or within Pennsylvania may be charged as a felony punishable upon conviction with a twenty-year prison term.
Manufacturing or cultivating illegal drugs may be charged as a felony or as a misdemeanor depending on the particular drug and the details of the case. A felony conviction for cultivating or manufacturing illegal drugs can sometimes be penalized with up to fifteen years in prison.
The possession of drug paraphernalia – items for manufacturing, cultivating, consuming, or storing illegal drugs – is also illegal in Pennsylvania. The charge is a misdemeanor punishable upon conviction with up to a year in jail and/or a fine of up to $2,500.
WHEN DOES ILLEGAL DRUG TRAFFICKING BECOME A FEDERAL OFFENSE?
Federal drug trafficking laws allow federal agencies to intervene in drug trafficking cases in a variety of circumstances. Nevertheless, unless a drug trafficking operation is unusually large, or unless traffickers cross state lines, most drug trafficking cases are handled at the state level.
If you are convicted of federal drug trafficking charges, you could be fined up to $1 million and sentenced to ten years – and you will almost certainly be sentenced to serve at least five years in a federal prison.
WHEN SHOULD YOU CONTACT AN ATTORNEY?
If you’re prosecuted for drug trafficking in a state court, a federal court, or in both courts at once, you will need sound advice and aggressive representation from a defense attorney with considerable experience representing defendants charged with drug trafficking.
The right Lemoyne drug crimes attorney will explain your rights and options, fight tenaciously for justice on your behalf, and bring the case to its best possible resolution.
HOW WILL A GOOD LAWYER HANDLE YOUR DEFENSE?
Your attorney’s defense strategy will depend on the particulars of the charge against you, but in general, these are the defenses most typically presented in drug trafficking cases:
- You did not possess the drugs or even know about them.
- The police violated your rights to gather evidence against you.
- You were not trafficking the drugs. They were for your personal use.
Your lawyer will determine which strategy will be the most effective for challenging the charges against you. If the police violated your rights, it is possible that incriminating evidence will be suppressed, and sometimes that’s enough to have the charges against you reduced or dismissed.
WHAT ELSE WILL YOUR ATTORNEY DO ON YOUR BEHALF?
In any drug possession or drug trafficking case, a good Lemoyne drug crimes attorney will:
- make sure that you do not incriminate yourself
- try to have incriminating evidence suppressed or to have the charge reduced or dismissed
- advise you to enter a not guilty plea or a guilty plea
- meet with the prosecutor and discuss possible plea agreements
- protect your rights and defend you at all court appearances
- present the most effective legal defense
- explain to jurors why they should find you not guilty – if the case goes to trial
Pennsylvania aggressively prosecutes drug crimes. The state’s drug laws are designed to produce convictions. Nevertheless, you should not assume that a drug possession or trafficking charge means an automatic conviction.
Drug cases are often difficult to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt.” The prosecutor may not have the evidence to convict you. A good defense attorney will fight aggressively to cast doubt on the case against you and to win the justice you need and deserve.