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Drug Offenses

In Plain English: Pennsylvania Drug Laws & Penalties

Experienced PA Drug Laws and Sentencing Attorney Explains Pennsylvania Drug Laws

Pennsylvania drug laws are complicated. Do not go it alone if you have drug charges pending against you. Let a lawyer who has dedicated her career to fighting for justice help you. Otherwise, you could face severe punishment that has lasting repercussions.

Pennsylvania drug defense attorney Tammy Dusharm of Dusharm Law LLC., is a compassionate and experienced criminal defense lawyer who dedicates her practice to making a difference. She will work diligently and will devote her resources to achieve the best outcome for your Pennsylvania drug case.


PA Drug Laws and Sentencing


Pennsylvania’s drug laws are some of the toughest in the country. When you face drug possession charges in PA or possession with intent to deliver PA, you could receive a significant jail sentence. The length of time you could spend in jail, along with any other sanctions you might get, depends on four important factors. The four factors that are prevalent in sentencing under Pennsylvania drug laws are:

  • The type of drug confiscated;

  • The number of drugs confiscated;

  • Your prior record of convictions for drug offenses or other crimes, if any; and

  • The opinion of the police that you had the intent to deliver rather than simple possession of the illegal drug.


Other factors like social history, educational history, and work history also play a role in determining the right sentence. The judge may not have a choice on sentencing depending on the charge.


What Is the Difference Between “Simple Possession” and “Possession with the Intent to Deliver?”


Simple possession and possession with intent to deliver (PWID) are substantially different crimes. Courts use the term simple possession and PWID to refer to the intent of the person found in possession of drugs. In other words, the court wants to know what you were planning to do with the drugs when you got caught.


Possession Under Pennsylvania Drug Laws


Before discussing the difference between simple drug possession in PA and possession with intent to deliver in PA, the first thing an expert in Pennsylvania drugs laws might want to know is whether or not the prosecutor can prove possession. If not, then a savvy defense attorney might file a motion to dismiss the case due to lack of evidence. Or you could choose to take your case to trial to win an acquittal. The best defense strategy for you and your case can only be determined after an honest conversation with your attorney.


Simple Possession


You might think that you understand what possession means. In everyday life, possession is an easy concept to understand. However, in the legal realm, the word takes on a new meaning. 

In the legal sense, possession means either having a) actual possession or b) constructive possession. Actual possession means you have direct control over an item, like your cellphone when you send a text message. 

Possession is not ownership; they are two distinct concepts. Thus, the Commonwealth does not have to prove you own an item like you might own a car, to convict you of drug possession.


Constructive Possession


Constructive possession is a legal term. A person has constructive possession over an item when they know the item exists, knows where it is, and when that person has the intention to exercise dominion and control over the item.

Practically, we have constructive possession over many things in our lives. For example, we have constructive possession of our cars when we park them and go into our homes. We know where the item is, we know what it is, and we have the intent to drive it at another time. 

Police use constructive possession to charge people with violations of Pennsylvania drug laws when they seize drugs that are not in anyone’s actual possession. For example, police might arrest you for a drug offense if they found a bag of drugs under your passenger’s seat and not on you. In this scenario, they might charge everyone riding in the car with possessing the drugs. Similarly, when the police serve a search warrant and find drugs in a shoebox in a closet, they may charge anyone who has a connection to the closet with possession. 

Police will use circumstantial evidence to try to tie you to the drugs. In the shoebox example, police might look for identification in the room. For instance, they scan bills or mail correspondence for your address. They might take your keys to see if they open the door to the place searched to connect you to the drugs. Also, they might look at the clothing in the closet with the shoebox and try to match the clothing to the suspect. 


What Is PWID?


PWID is a felony under Pennsylvania drug laws. PWID means that you had the intention to deliver, give, sell, transfer, or provide all or a portion of the drugs to another. The authorities could charge you with trafficking in a drug when you possess a certain amount of drugs with the intent to deliver. Additionally, manufacturing and importing narcotics are also felony offenses.


How Do Police Prove You Had the Intent to Deliver?


The police use circumstantial evidence to prove you had the intent to deliver. Police look for evidence of intent to deliver such as:

  • The amount of drugs seized;

  • whether there were multiple types of drugs seized;

  • If you are addicted to drugs;

  • The presence of large sums of money;

  • Notebooks or other documents used as a ledger to document who still owes money for the purchase of narcotics;

  • The presence of a firearm;

  • The presence of digital scales, packaging materials like plastic baggies with the corners removed; and

  • Any other evidence that tends to show the suspect was dealing rather than using the drugs.


People sometimes sell drugs to “feed their habit.” But, some cases are clearer than others. People who have drugs for personal use rather than with the intent to deliver may have empty corners of plastic baggies, no or little money, smaller quantities of drugs, or hypodermic needles. 

Having a lawyer who understands how to defend a drug case will give you the best shot at a winning defense.

Specific Drug Offenses Under Pennsylvania Drug Law

Narcotics Trafficking


Narcotics trafficking is a felony in Pennsylvania. Under the PA drug laws and sentencing scheme, narcotics trafficking refers to Schedule I or II drugs. Schedule I and II are hard drugs or street drugs and include:

  • Heroin,

  • Opioids such as Percocet, Vicodin, or OxyContin,

  • Cocaine,

  • Ecstasy,

  • MDMA,

  • Meth, and

  • PCP.


These drugs fall into categories I and II in the drug schedule because they are extremely dangerous and have a high likelihood of addiction.


Trafficking Penalties*


The minimum sentences for narcotics trafficking depend on the amount of drugs seized and if you have a prior offense.

Trafficking in certain narcotics between two and 10 grams carries a minimum of two years in prison and a maximum fine of $5,000 for a first offense. The penalty rises to three years imprisonment and $10,000 in fines for a subsequent conviction.

Trafficking in certain drugs from 10 to 100 grams carries a three-year minimum prison sentence and a maximum fine of $15,000. The minimum sentence elevates to five years and the maximum fine increases to $30,000 for a subsequent offense.

Finally, trafficking in 100 grams or more of certain narcotics carries a five-year prison term with a maximum $25,000 fine for a first offense. The penalty increases to a seven-year prison sentence and a maximum fine of $50,000 for a subsequent offense.

Trafficking in heroin carries even stiffer penalties. The sentence for a first conviction of trafficking between one and five grams is two years; a subsequent offense is three years. Five grams to 50 grams carries a three-year prison term or five years for a subsequent offense. Trafficking 50 grams or more of heroin carries a five-year prison sentence for a first offense and seven years for a second offense. 


Felony Drug Possession*


Drug possession in PA differentiates between a misdemeanor and felony drug possession. A first offense conviction for drug possession is a misdemeanor. The maximum jail sentence is one year and the maximum fine is $5,000. A subsequent offense increases the possible penalty to up to three years.

Felony drug possession refers to possession of cocaine, meth, PCP, and over 1,000 pounds of marijuana, among other substances. You may face up to 25 years in prison if convicted of PWID for any of these substances. 


Possession of Drug Paraphernalia*


Possession of drug paraphernalia is a misdemeanor. Drug paraphernalia often refers to items used to smoke marijuana, but can refer to any item used in any way in connection with illegal drugs. The maximum penalty for possession of drug paraphernalia is one year in jail and a fine of no more than $2,500.


THC and Hashish (Hash) Possession*


Possession of THC and hashish are misdemeanors. Possessing less than eight grams is an ungraded misdemeanor that carries a maximum of 30 days in jail. Possessing more than eight grams is a misdemeanor with a maximum of one year in jail.


Marijuana Possession*


PWID marijuana is a felony. Possession of two to 10 pounds carries a one-year sentence for a first offense and two years for a second offense. The sentences increase to three years for a first offense or four years for a subsequent offense for PWID marijuana when the defendant possesses 10 to 50 pounds of the substance when caught. 50 pounds and up carries a five-year sentence. 

Possessing less than 30 grams of marijuana is an ungraded misdemeanor under Pennsylvania drug laws. The maximum jail time you could get is 30 days and a $500 fine. Possessing 30 grams or more is a misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of one year in jail. Subsequent offenses always increase the possible penalty you face.

*As the laws and penalties for offenses frequently change, this information, while accurate when published may be subject to change. It is therefore important that you speak with a qualified PA drug defense attorney to evaluate the range of penalties you could be facing in your unique situation.

Having a Drug Charge Does Not Mean You Are Automatically Guilty

You have several defenses when facing drug charges. A Pennsylvania drug defense attorney can review your case and explain your options. You could fight the charge before trial if the police violated your constitutional rights. Also, you could take your case to trial and argue that the prosecutor cannot prove you had possession of the drugs or you had no intent to deliver them. 

In other cases, you might consider a plea. If you have no reasonable defense, negotiating with the prosecutor might be the best option. Instead of going to jail for drug possession, you might be able to receive probation and go to drug court after pleading to reduced charges.

You have to fight your drug charges as hard as possible. A conviction for drug charges could result in a revocation of your driver’s license, professional license, your right to vote, your right to possess a firearm, and your ability to have certain jobs. Additionally, a felony conviction for a drug crime could lead to deportation, exclusion from the U.S., or denial of naturalization rights.  Pennsylvania’s drug laws are complicated. It is important to seek advice from a qualified attorney as early in the process as possible to evaluate your particular situation and determine the best strategy to deal with your case.

Aggressive Defense for Pennsylvania Drug Law Charges

When facing drug charges in PA, you need a tough, dedicated lawyer with extensive knowledge and experience. Criminal defense attorney Tammy Dusharm and her team with Dusharm Law LLC are ready to fight for you. With more than 15 years of experience protecting people’s rights, Tammy Dusharm understands what is at stake. Call experienced drug defense lawyer Tammy Dusharm today at 717-204-7820 to learn more about how she can help you and your family. 

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