It is generally well-known that drugs such as cocaine and heroin are illegal under federal and state law, and even marijuana remains illegal in some states. However, authorities can also prosecute people for owning or selling related items or objects, even if they are not in possession of the actual drugs.
This article contains an overview of information about laws prohibiting drug-related paraphernalia. These laws are useful for providing police with probable cause to search vehicles, areas, and people for actual illegal drugs.
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, or
- 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, and if it is clear that a pipe, bong, hookah, or other item was used for smoking 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),
- 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, or
- 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, or
- 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 and makes 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
Punishments for drug paraphernalia are generally less severe than for offenses involving illicit drugs themselves. 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 (punishable by up to 30 days of jail time plus a fine of up to $250), but dealing in paraphernalia is a misdemeanor of the second degree (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.
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 who knows the ropes and will protect your legal rights.
Contact a qualified drug crime lawyer near you today.