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Understanding Drug Possession in Pennsylvania


With millions of Americans struggling with substance abuse, punishments for drug-related crimes can be harsh and severe. Last year, over 1.3 million people were arrested for drug possession, making up for 85% of drug-related arrests. While marijuana possession and legalization laws are rapidly changing around the country, it remains highly illegal to possess controlled substances throughout Pennsylvania. If you are accused of committing a drug-related crime, a Ernie Preate, Jr., Former Pennsylvania Attorney General and Lackawanna County District Attorney lawyer can help you understand possible defenses.

Possession vs. Possession with Intent to Deliver

Pennsylvania law defines possession of a controlled substance as knowingly having a controlled substance that isn’t licensed by a valid practitioner. This applies to drugs such as marijuana, methamphetamines, cocaine, and other drugs. Possession is considered a misdemeanor, and a person can see up a year in jail with a maximum $5,000 fine. Subsequent offenses carry up to 3 years in jail with a maximum fine of $25,000.

Possession with Intent to Deliver (PWID) is when someone has a controlled substance not licensed by a valid practitioner and intends to deliver or create a counterfeit substance. The biggest difference between PWID and a possession charge is determining whether the accused was truly intending to distribute the substance. Officials determine a PWID charge by evaluating the number of drugs, cash or paraphernalia found at the scene. Penalties for PWID can range from a misdemeanor charge with a year in jail, or more severe felony charges carrying upwards of 15 years in jail, a maximum of $250,000 in fines, or both.

Where Does Marijuana Fit In With Possession Charges? 

Currently, possession of cannabis is treated as a misdemeanor with a potential $500 fine and driver’s license suspension. Marijuana isn’t decriminalized statewide yet, but Pennsylvania did take a step towards it back in October. The House Judiciary Committee voted in favor of a bill downgrading possession of fewer than 30 grams of marijuana to a summary offense, basically like a traffic fine. If the law passed, fines would be capped at $300 with no jail time or license suspensions. Ultimately, no vote was taken. However, certain municipalities such as Philadelphia, Harrisburg, and Allentown already passed ordinances decriminalizing the possession of smaller amounts of marijuana. As of last year, reports show there was a 75% reduction of marijuana-related arrests since the passage of the ordinance.

The Deeper Penalties Beyond Jail and Fines

Beyond potentially detrimental fines, a drug possession charge or conviction can have serious lifestyle consequences. It’s possible for professional licenses to be revoked, or could disqualify you from your current position. A conviction will also show up on a background check and could jeopardize future jobs. If you are an immigrant, it’s possible a conviction could lead to deportation. 

There are defenses for those charged with possession, and Ernest D. Preate, Jr. has a proven record of getting charges against clients dropped or reduced. We are also successful at placing clients in rehabilitation programs instead of criminal sentencing. Please call our Scranton, Pennsylvania offices at 570-209-9865 or fill out an online form to begin your initial consultation.


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Ernest D. Preate, Jr. Esquire

204 Wyoming Avenue
2nd Floor, Suite C
Scranton, Pennsylvania 18503
Phone: 570-209-9865
Fax: 570-558-5973

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