Understanding Possession With Intent to Distribute


Are you facing possession with intent to distribute charges? attorney Gretchen Taylor Pousson of Scrofano Law PC can help you. Book a consultation call today.

What Is Possession With Intent to Distribute?


Possession of a controlled substance with the intent to sell or distribute is a felony. Under federal law 18 U.S.C. §841, the following acts involving a controlled substance are unlawful:

  • Manufacturing
  • Distributing
  • Creating
  • Dispensing
  • Possession with intent to distribute

In addition to federal laws, every state has laws regarding drug possession. In Virginia, possessing any controlled substance is illegal under 18.2-250. The only way to legally possess a drug is through a valid prescription or a doctor’s order.

When an individual is arrested for a drug crime, they may be charged on the state or federal level. Which jurisdiction will undertake prosecution can depend on several factors, including:

  • The amount of illegal drugs involved
  • The number of individuals involved in the crime
  • Whether the drug crime involved multi-state activity

Possessing drugs with the intent to distribute carries higher penalties than simple possession. Legally speaking, it requires the prosecutor to prove the defendant’s intent to distribute.

Those convicted of possession with intent to distribute can face serious penalties. If you or someone you care about is facing such charges, you may feel scared or lost. Having an experienced drug lawyer in Virginia on your side is extremely beneficial.

Drug Schedules and Charges


The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) enforces U.S. controlled substance laws and regulations. Under federal law, five drug schedules (I-V) categorize illegal substances.

The Schedules are classified on a sliding scale of accepted medical use and potential for abuse. For example, Schedule I drugs have no currently accepted medical use. They have a high potential for abuse. On the other hand, Schedule V drugs have a low potential for abuse. They typically contain limited quantities of certain narcotics.

The drug schedules are also used to determine the severity of penalties. Schedule I substances carry the heaviest penalties. They include drugs like heroin, marijuana, and LSD. Schedule V substances carry less severe charges. These substances include, for example, cough medicines with low levels of codeine. 

Virginia has state-specific drug schedules. The Virginia Drug Control Act classifies drugs into six Schedules. Schedules I-V follow the Federal Schedules. However, Schedule VI includes controlled substances that are not drugs in the conventional sense, such as laughing gas, poppers (amyl nitrite), and similar inhalants.

Penalties for possession of Schedule I-VI drugs in Virginia vary depending on factors such as the type and quantity of the drug and the individual’s intent. Schedule I and II drugs can lead to felony charges, resulting in substantial fines, mandatory minimum prison sentences, and potential asset forfeiture. Schedule III drugs are generally treated as felonies with less severe consequences.

Possession of Schedule IV substances is usually a misdemeanor offense, while Schedule V and VI drugs often result in misdemeanor charges. Penalties may include fines, probation, community service, and the possibility of short-term incarceration.

What Factors Can Influence the Severity of Penalties for Possession With Intent to Distribute?


Potential sentences for possession with intent to distribute depend on several factors. They include:

  • Quantity and drug type involved

  • Defendant’s criminal history

  • Circumstances surrounding the arrest

Virginia drug laws can be harsh. A penalty for possession with intent to distribute a Schedule I drug can include 5-40 years in prison. The defendant may also have to pay a fine of up to $500,000.

Having large amounts of Schedule I and II drugs can also carry enhanced penalties. These penalties include mandatory minimum prison sentences. That sentence will be served consecutively with any other prison sentence.

Drug crimes committed in a school zone or in proximity to a minor may aggravate penalties. Possession with intent to distribute in a school area is a separate felony from a drug crime in Virginia. It is typically punished with 1-5 years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000 for a first offense.

Moreover, it is considered a felony offense to display a firearm while engaging in possession with intent to distribute it within a school area. If the drugs in possession are classified as Schedule I or II, the prescribed sentence can entail a mandatory minimum of 5 years in prison. It’s important to note that this prison term is separate from any penalties imposed for the underlying drug offense.

How Can an Attorney Help with Your Possession of a Controlled Substance With Intent to Distribute Case?


Possession with intent to distribute is a serious crime. In case of a conviction, you will be looking at a lengthy prison sentence and harsh fines. These cases can take several months or longer to resolve. In addition, these convictions are next to impossible to expunge. So, retaining an experienced attorney is crucial.

They can thoroughly analyze the evidence, challenge its legality or admissibility, and develop a strong defense strategy. They can also ensure that your rights are protected throughout the legal process and provide guidance on a wise course of action, ultimately working towards the most favorable outcome for your case.

When facing charges of possession with intent to distribute in DC or Northern Virginia, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed and uncertain about the future. However, you can rely on the experience and dedication of Gretchen Taylor Pousson of Scrofano Law.

With over a decade of experience and a strong track record in drug possession cases, Gretchen Taylor Pousson is committed to protecting your rights and ensuring justice is served. For help with your drug possession and distribution case, reach out today so we can discuss your case’s circumstances.

Frequently Asked Questions


What Is the Difference Between Possession for Personal Use and Possession with Intent to Distribute?

The primary difference between these offenses is the level of intent involved. While possession for personal use is indeed a crime, it is generally treated with less severity due to its specific purpose for personal consumption.

Possession with intent to distribute carries more substantial penalties. The crime occurs when an individual plans to sell an illegal substance to another. The prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant had the intent to distribute drugs.


Can Intent to Distribute Be Proven Without Direct Evidence?

In drug-related cases, direct evidence like text messages or recorded conversations is often considered the most favorable. However, it is not always a requirement for establishing intent. In these instances, proof of intent can rely on other forms of evidence.

Specific circumstances can contribute to intent to sell charges, such as possessing several drugs that exceed personal use, having drug paraphernalia like scales or baggies, or carrying a significant amount of cash. Individually, these pieces of evidence may not conclusively prove intent. Nonetheless, the prosecution can argue that these circumstances serve as evidence of intent when considered collectively.


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