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Just as the term "drugs" refers to an extremely varied list of prohibited natural and synthetic substances, drug possession is a crime that encompasses a wide spectrum of possible violations and potential punishments.
Each state has its own laws regarding what constitutes drug possession and the potential penalties and sentences that a conviction can bring. But there are a few general principles that apply in most states.
So what can you expect if you're facing a drug possession charge?
One of the most important factors is the amount of drugs allegedly found in your possession. Generally, a small amount of drugs will be considered "simple" possession, or possession for personal use. A larger amount of drugs may lead to charges of possession with intent to distribute, which typically carries harsher criminal penalties.
To establish an intent to distribute, law enforcement may need additional evidence beyond just the amount of drugs found in your possession. This may include drug packaging materials, scales or other measuring equipment, or large amounts of cash; it can also include law enforcement observations of drug deals or even messages from customers on a cell phone or computer.
The type of drug you allegedly possess can also determine the severity of the potential penalties. Although marijuana is still illegal under federal law, two states -- Colorado and Washington -- have made the possession of marijuana legal under state law. Several other states and cities have turned the simple possession of a small amount of marijuana into a civil infraction punished by a small fine.
In many other states, however, marijuana possession may still punished on par with other illegal drugs such as methamphetamine, heroin, and ecstasy.
Depending on the state you're in, the drug you're caught with, the amount of the drug in your possession, the circumstances surrounding your arrest, and the existence of prior drug possession convictions, the potential penalties for a drug possession conviction range from small fines of less than $100 to several years in state prison.
In addition to (or in lieu of) other punishment, drug offenders in some states may be sentenced to probation -- which allows a person to remain free under court-ordered conditions and supervision -- or take part in drug courts, programs specifically directed at rehabilitating drug offenders.
The key point to remember: Every drug possession case is different, and can result in different outcomes. If you're facing drug possession charges, an experienced drug crime lawyer can help defend your rights in court.
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.