Drug Charges: Possession vs. Distribution – Where Law Enforcement Draws the Line

Dealing with drug charges can throw your life up in the air. Whether you’re dealing with simple possession or intent to distribute, there’s a solid chance you’re facing some very unwanted consequences on the other end of a trial. If you don’t know the law or what happens in a courtroom, read on to learn more about: 

  • State Laws and Schedules: Understanding Legal Distinctions and Terms; 
  • Avoiding Unfair Possession Sentencing by Knowing Your Rights; and 
  • “Intent to Distribute” Red Flags and How to Fight Them in Court. 

Drug Charge Basics: Knowing the State Laws Before You Get Caught.

Involving yourself with any type of drug paraphernalia is risky. Though we’ve seen drugs such as marijuana legalized in many states, Maryland still prohibits its recreational use. Besides that, getting caught with any schedule 1 or 2 narcotics may spell trouble for the future. Even if you commit to using in controlled and private locations, you never know what could happen. Do not get caught with charges you don’t understand. 

First, it is important to know what Scheduling is and how it relates to drug charges. Scheduling is a federal and/or state classification for drugs based on medical value and abuse potential. All drugs (medicinal and recreational) are sorted into different categories, with schedule 1 reserved for non-medical drugs with a high potential for abuse. From there, schedules 2 through 5 cover medical drugs with their abuse potential scaling down from the top. 

 

Marijuana, both synthetic and non-synthetic, is considered a schedule 1 drug in the state of Maryland and at the Federal level. Other schedule 1 drugs include: 

  • Heroin
  • LSD
  • Mescaline 
  • MDMA
  • GHB
  • Bath Salts

 

This is not an exhaustive list either; the full list of drugs listed under schedule 1 in Maryland’s legal code is very long. You will want to also look at schedules two through five to understand which drugs fit in which category. 

The reason we go into these classifications is because they directly impact your potential sentence if charged with possession with intent to distribute. Maryland’s legal code directly cites the distribution of schedule 1 or 2 narcotics as a felony conviction: the violation of which carries up to 20 years in prison or up to $15,000 in fines. Potential charges increase with the selling of hallucinogenic substances to 25 years and $25,000. Fentanyl distribution too carries its own felony charge with up to 10 years in prison. You can even see heavy penalties for distributing noncontrolled substances, as in over-the-counter or prescription medication, and misrepresenting it as a controlled substance—up to 5 years in prison and $15,000 in fines. 

 

As you can see, there are varying penalties for distribution depending on the drug itself. On the other hand, possession charges are far less severe but still have the potential to increase drastically depending on the type of drug and amount. 

It is important to mention that the key difference between possession and possession with intent to distribute is based on amount. If you have an excessive amount of a certain drug on you upon arrest, law enforcement may very well see this as intent to distribute. However, just having a gram-or-so is a misdemeanor charge, which may be punishable with a very minor sentence and light fine. On the other hand, you may also see up to a year in prison with a fine of $500 too. 

 

In addition to knowing the laws, you should also understand the nuances of approaching these individual charges in court—specifically when it comes to fighting your way out from the bottom of serious legal consequences. 

 

Issues Associated with Possession and How to Confront Them

For years, possession charges have been highly controversial for a couple of reasons. The sheer volume of possession arrests per year is unavoidable to most; likewise, many claim most charges are not for large quantities, but for smaller amounts of controlled substances on someone’s person or property. 

If you find yourself in these shoes, do not worry—you have options. As mentioned, a court may see dozens, even hundreds, of possession cases per month, depending on its location. With the popularity of plea deals, criminal cases rarely go to full trial nowadays. If you are the defendant in a typically low-priority case, doors may open for your lawyer to seek out a sentencing deal that works for you. 

 

There are many things you should and should not hope for as an outcome of your case. Need to accept some consequence? Sometimes the best thing is a multi-week-long drug diversion program that keeps you out of jail. This is not a free pass, but it’s better than shelling out hundreds of dollars in fines and spending time behind bars. 

Not an option? Your defense lawyer has more under their belt. In criminal cases involving any contact between law enforcement and an accused party, the defense will almost always look at the details of those interactions. How did they occur? On what evidence did the officers make the stop? Did the officers violate the defendant’s constitutional rights attempting to implicate them with possession? Any demonstration of this may exonerate you entirely because if an officer conducts a search without probable cause and gathers evidence in the process, that evidence is inadmissible in court. 

 

These are just a few of the ways your attorney will tailor your defense against possession. It is already a very prosecuted crime—there’s no reason you should face up to a year of your life in prison for an inconsequential possession. 

 

Fighting “Intent to Distribute” Charges in Court

When the police tack an intent to distribute onto your possession charge, it is usually after they have decided the amount they took off you was not just for personal use. However, that is not a final decree. The jury and judge will make that decision in court. 

It may seem intimidating, but law enforcement’s world only goes so far in some instances. You are arguing against the police’s picture of events, which may discount many of your own experiences that are pertinent to the case. If you have a criminal defense attorney dedicated to your case, the court will hear those key details. 

 

Your lawyer will conduct their own examination of the charges and why law enforcement made the decision to include intent to distribute. What really factored into the decision? What did they base it on, and what evidence do they have to prove it? Much like possession, they will also look at any infringement on your rights that took place during the seizure. 

Do take these charges seriously though: police officers do not usually make these decisions on a whim for the purpose of them holding up in court down the road. You will fight against evidence in court, but it’s your lawyer’s job to get ahead of it and do what they can to clear your name. 


If you are facing any type of possession charges, contact our offices for a free initial consultation. Drug crime allegations can halt your future at a moment’s notice. You need to face them head-on with the help of a criminal defense attorney.

More on Criminal Defense in Maryland

Free Intial Consultation with JC Law