PossessionAndDistributionDrug crimes are one of the most frequently prosecuted crimes in the District of Columbia. It is critically important that an individual charged with any drug offense in D.C., hire a skilled and experienced Washington, D.C. drug offense defense attorney.  There are three kinds of drug offenses charged in the District of Columbia:


Simple possession

Simple possession of any drug, even heroin, cocaine, and prescription medication, is a misdemeanor charge that carries a penalty of up to 180 days in jail and/or $1000 fine.  The court must prove that the defendant knew they possessed a measurable amount of a controlled substance and did so “voluntarily and on purpose.”

One exception…simple possession of phencyclidine (PCP) in liquid form is a felony that carries a penalty of up to 3 years in prison and/or a $3000 fine.

If this is a first offense, it is possible that the defendant may be given the benefit of a diversion program and defer an adjudication of guilt. If you successfully complete your probation period, community service, and continue to test negative for drugs, you may be able to avoid a conviction and have the arrest expunged from your record.


Distribution and Possession with intent to distribute

The difference between the charges of distribution and possession with intent to distribute is proof.  For distribution, the court needs to prove the actual transfer of a controlled substance from one person to another.  For instance, an undercover officer purchasing drugs from a suspected drug dealer would constitute proof of distribution.

In the case of possession with intent to distribute, the court needs to show proof that the defendant “intended” to transfer a controlled substance. Both distribution and possession with intent to distribute are felonies and may carry a prison term of up to 30 years and/or a fine of up to $75000 depending on the scheduled drug and the amount.

The law in the District of Columbia does not require proof that the defendant received or expected to receive anything of value.  That means that both of these charges may be used in cases outside of drug dealing.  This would include instances when two people are sharing drugs socially for personal use.


Is possession of marijuana legal in Washington D.C.?

In 2015, the District changed its marijuana laws.  As a result D.C. law permits the following for those 21 years of age or older:

  • You may possess up to 2 ounces of marijuana.
  • You may transfer up to 1 ounce of marijuana to someone else without compensation.
  • You may grow up to six marijuana plants, of which no more than 3 are mature

It is illegal to sell marijuana or to use it in public.  You may not operate a vehicle while under the influence of marijuana.

Even though the District of Columbia has made limited possession legal, possession of any amount of marijuana still remains illegal under federal law.  However, the federal government has followed a policy of not prosecuting individuals for marijuana possession/distribution where the individual has not violated local or state law. If that policy changes, then you may be subject to prosecution by the federal government, even if your conduct is consideredlegal by D.C. law.


Your fourth amendment rights

The fourth amendment to the constitution gives you the right against unreasonable search and seizure.  This means that a police officer can’t simply come up to you or stop you and demand to search you for drugs or other evidence of criminal activity.  The law requires that police first obtain a search warrant, and to get a search warrant, the officer must show probable cause that you committed a crime.  If a search warrant is issued, the officer may only perform a search within the scope of the warrant.

There are exceptions:

  • During an arrest, the police can conduct a search of the arrestee to look for weapons or dangerous items.
  • If an officer is lawfully at a location and evidence of a crime is in plain view, the officer has the right to seize the evidence without a warrant.
  • During a traffic stop, an officer may search for evidence of the crime for which the stop is being made. But, the officer cannot search the car to look for evidence of other crimes.

One of the first questions an experienced drug offense defense attorney will ask in any drug case is whether the police investigation complied with the fourth amendment’s constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.


Contact a D.C. attorney with drug offense experience

Being convicted of possession or distribution of a controlled substance is a serious offense that can carry hefty fines and/or serious jail time. It is important to make sure your rights are protected.

If you are arrested for drug possession and/or distribution charges in Washington, D.C., it is in your best interest to seek counsel with knowledge and experience in this area of law.  Contact attorney Gretchen Taylor Pousson for a consultation.  He can answer your questions about the details of the charges and advise you how best to proceed in this matter.