It is generally well-known that drugs such as cocaine and heroin are illegal under federal and state law. Even cannabis (marijuana) remains illegal in some states. However, authorities can also prosecute people for owning or selling related items or objects. This can happen even if they are not in possession of the actual drugs. These items tend to provide ways for people to ingest illegal substances into the human body or carry them for future drug use.
This article contains an overview of information about laws prohibiting the possession of drug paraphernalia. These laws help provide police with probable cause to search vehicles, areas, and people for illegal drugs, such as methamphetamine. If you want further information, a criminal defense lawyer can help.
Drug Paraphernalia Laws
Under federal law, it is unlawful to do any of the following:
- Sell or offer to sell drug paraphernalia
- Mail drug paraphernalia or transport it through interstate commerce
- Import or export drug paraphernalia
Simple possession of paraphernalia is not a federal crime. However, under some state laws, merely owning or having these items is illegal. Police may check for drug residue. If it is clear that a pipe, bong, hookah, or other item was used for smoking illegal substances—or vials or baggies were used to carry illegal substances—that person may face drug paraphernalia charges.
Examples of Drug Paraphernalia
Federal law lists numerous specific examples of prohibited paraphernalia, including:
- Pipes made of glass, wood, stone, plastic, or ceramic
- Water pipes, bongs, and chillums (long hollow pipes usually made of clay) used for ingesting controlled substances
- Roach clips (objects used to hold burning materials like rolled cigarettes or joints that are too small to be held by hand)
- Miniature spoons that hold less than one-tenth of a cubic centimeter, often used for snorting cocaine
- Freebase cocaine kits or paraphernalia used to smoke cocaine
Some states have longer lists of banned items. For instance, Washington State adds:
- Scales and balances intended to weigh controlled substances
- Equipment designed to test the strength or purity of controlled substances
- Materials or chemicals used to "cut" or dilute the strength of narcotics
- Syringes or needles for injecting controlled substances
Both federal and state laws identify various factors that law enforcement officials must use to distinguish between a lawful physical object (e.g., a scale or a spoon) and unlawful drug paraphernalia. Often, the residue of illegal substances is used to prove that items with legitimate purposes have been used illegally.
In states that have legalized marijuana for recreational use, lawmakers may have eliminated certain objects from the list, such as bongs or roach clips. Almost every state still restricts these items for minors. States also typically make it a crime to sell or distribute these items to minors. Even if a state no longer outlaws these items, it should be noted that federal law still considers them to be illegal drug paraphernalia and forbids their sale and importation. However, this has changed for states that have legalized marijuana.
Penalties for Possessing or Distributing
The punishment for possession of drug paraphernalia charges is generally less severe than for drug offenses involving illicit drugs themselves. Offenses, such as drug trafficking, are typically felony charges. Under the federal statute, the maximum sentence for selling paraphernalia is three years plus a fine. As noted above, federal law does not outlaw possession, per se.
Under state law, penalties can vary. For example, in Ohio, drug paraphernalia possession is a fourth-degree misdemeanor. It is punishable by up to 30 days of jail time plus a fine of up to $250. However, dealing in paraphernalia is a misdemeanor of the second-degree. It is punishable by up to 90 days in jail plus a larger fine of up to $1000. While most states treat paraphernalia distribution as a misdemeanor, some punish it as a felony if it involves the sale of items to minors. Either way, it is a criminal offense that can lead to a criminal record. You should have a drug crime attorney help you with your case.
Get Legal Help With Your Drug Paraphernalia Charges
If you've been accused of a drug paraphernalia offense or any other crime, don't waste a moment before speaking with an experienced attorney. Find an attorney who knows the ropes and will protect your legal rights. Consider forming an attorney-client relationship with a reliable attorney who can give you legal advice about criminal law and criminal penalties. They can make a trip to their law office worth it.
Contact a qualified drug crime lawyer or criminal defense attorney near you today.