DC Drug Lawyer

An Introduction to Washington DC Drug Laws

There are several drug-related criminal offenses in the District of Columbia. The two major offenses are:

  1. Drug possession without the intent to manufacture or distribute.
  2. Drug manufacture, distribution, or possession with intent to manufacture or distribute.

Both offenses carry significant penalties upon conviction which include fines, jail time, or both. Depending on the seriousness of the offense and other factors, you may face penalties up to tens of thousands of dollars in fines and several decades in prison. 

For this reason, if you are facing drug charges in Washington DC, it is vital to contact an expert DC Criminal Defense Attorney or DC Drug Lawyer to defend you. The experienced attorneys at Ervin Kibria Law stand ready to work zealously on your case and achieve the best result possible. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.

DC Drug Offenses: Important Words to Know

The three terms below are important to remember as they have significant bearing on any drug charges in DC. Whether your case actually involves a “controlled substance” can determine if any penalties apply in the first place. Which “Schedule” the involved drugs fall under and whether they are “narcotic drugs” determines the severity of the penalties associated with a drug conviction in DC.

“Controlled Substance”

Controlled substances are the drugs, substances, and immediate precursors of those drugs and substances, as listed within Subchapter II of Chapter 9 of the DC Code.

 “Schedule I” through “Schedule V”

The controlled substances DC drug law covers are grouped into five different tiers—Schedule I through V—based on several factors, including potential for abuse, a risk to public health, and whether there is an acceptable medical use for the particular substance.

A Schedule I substance has high potential for abuse, and has no accepted medical use in treatment in the United States or in the District of Columbia, or lacks accepted safety for use in treatment under medical supervision.

A Schedule II substance has high potential for abuse; has currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States or the District of Columbia, or currently accepted medical use with severe restrictions, and abuse of the substance may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence.

A Schedule III substance has a potential for abuse less than the substances listed in Schedules I and II; has currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States or the District of Columbia; and abuse of the substance may lead to moderate or low physical dependence or high psychological dependence.

A Schedule IV substance has a low potential for abuse relative to substances in Schedule III; the substance has currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States or the District of Columbia; and the abuse of the substance may lead to limited physical dependence or psychological dependence relative to the substances in Schedule III.

A Schedule V substance has low potential for abuse relative to the controlled substances listed in Schedule IV; has currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States or the District of Columbia; and has limited physical dependence or psychological dependence liability relative to the controlled substances listed in Schedule IV.

What Schedule the particular drug or drugs involved in your case fall under is one of the biggest factors in determining the maximum penalties you may receive for a conviction.  

“Narcotic Drug”

Under the DC Code, the term “narcotic drug” specifically denotes opium and cocaine, alongside various derivatives from those drugs and substances with similar chemical effect. The term also includes substances with opium or cocaine mixed in.

DC Drug Offenses: Possession without Intent to Manufacture or Distribute (Simple Possession)

Per DC Code §48–904.01(b), “it is unlawful for any person to knowingly or intentionally possess a controlled substance”.

The exceptions to the above are:

  1. Controlled substances obtained, either directly or pursuant to a prescription, from a practitioner acting in the course of his or her professional practice.
  2. Marijuana necessary for medical treatment, obtained after getting a proper license.
  3. 1 ounce or less of marijuana.

Simple possession is generally not a felony, but a misdemeanor offense. A conviction for simple possession can be punished by a fine of up to $1,000, jail time of up to 180 days, or both.

There is a special exception in the DC Code for simple possession of the drug phencyclidine—commonly known as PCP—in liquid form, which is a felony. Conviction for this offense can be punished by a fine of up to $12,500, jail time of up to 3 years, or both.

Leniency for 1st Time Offense of Simple Possession

If you are convicted of simple possession, but your criminal record is completely clean of any other drug-related offenses, it is possible to ask for one-time leniency from the court. If the court chooses to grant such leniency, they can put the guilty judgment on hold and instead assign a probation period of up to 1 year, with reasonable conditions. If you do not violate the probation conditions and do as the court instructs, the court will dismiss the proceedings, meaning you will not have a conviction for simple possession on your record. The court will still keep a nonpublic record of the dismissal, however, for the purposes of denoting that you already used up your one-time leniency under the law.

DC Drug Offenses: Manufacture, Distribution, or Possession with Intent to Manufacture or Distribute

Per DC Code §48–904.01(a)(1), it is unlawful for any person to knowingly or intentionally manufacture, distribute, or possess, with intent to manufacture or distribute, a controlled substance—unless permitted via a license to do so.

Violating this law will involve felony drug charges and the penalties depend on the Schedule and nature of the controlled substance in question:

  1. For a Schedule I or II controlled substance that is a narcotic or abusive drug, the penalty is a fine of up to $75,000, up to 30 years of jail time, or both.
  2. For a Schedule I, II, or III controlled substance, except for a narcotic or abusive drug, the penalty is a fine of up to $12,500, up to 5 years of jail time, or both.
  3. For a Schedule IV controlled substance, the penalty is a fine of up to $12,500, up to 3 years of jail time, or both.
  4. For a Schedule V controlled substance, the penalty is a fine of up to $2,500, up to 1 year of jail time, or both.
  5. If the conviction involved solely half a pound of marijuana or less and you have no other convictions for manufacture, distribution, or possession with intent to manufacture or distribute on your record, the penalty is a fine of up to $1,000, up to 180 days of jail time, or both.
Second of subsequent convictions for the offense doubles the maximum fines and jail time.

If the offense involves distribution to minors (age 18 or younger), the maximum jail time involved doubles.

If the offense involves enlisting minors to distribute, additional penalties are added on:

  1. For a first-time offense of enlisting minors to distribute, the penalty is up to $25,000 in fines, up to 10 years of jail time, or both.
  2. For a second or subsequent offense of enlisting minors to distribute, the penalty is up to $50,000, up to 20 years of jail time, or both.  

If the offense involves distributing in a “drug free zone”, the maximum fines and jail time penalties double. Drug free zones mainly include all areas within 1000 feet of an educational facility, such as an elementary school or college, or a recreational area frequented by minors, such as a playground or video arcade. The full definition of a drug free zone in DC can be found at DC Code §48–904.07a.

In addition, DC Code §48–904.03a makes it illegal to knowingly open or maintain any place to manufacture, distribute, or store for the purpose of manufacture or distribution a narcotic or abusive drug. The penalty is a fine of up to $75,000, up to 25 years of jail time with a 5-year minimum sentence, or both. 

Special Marijuana Exception

Under the DC Code, it is not a crime for a person 21 years or older to:

  1. Possess, use, purchase, or transport marijuana weighing 2 ounces or less;
  2. Transfer to another person 21 years of age or older, without remuneration, marijuana weighing one ounce or less;
  3. Possess, grow, harvest, or process, within the interior of a house or rental unit that constitutes such person’s principal residence, no more than 6 cannabis plants, with 3 or fewer being mature, flowering plants; provided, that all persons residing within a single house or single rental unit may not possess, grow, harvest, or process, in the aggregate, more than 12 cannabis plants, with 6 or fewer being mature, flowering plants;
  4. Possess within such house or rental unit the marijuana produced by such plants.

Note that marijuana is still a controlled substance when it is sold, offered for sale, or made available for sale, with the accompanying restrictions.

The law does not prevent employers from placing and enforcing their own restrictions on the possession, consumption, use, display, transfer, distribution, sale, transportation, or growing of marijuana in the workplace. Landlords have similar powers with regard to real property they own.

Additionally, DC Code §48–911.01 prohibits the consumption of marijuana in a public space. The definition of “public space” under this section basically amounts to everywhere except a private residence. Violation of this law is a misdemeanor and carries a penalty of up to $500 in fines, 60 days of jail time, or both. 

Also, possession or transfer without remuneration of marijuana weighing one ounce or less is still a civil violation. The police can impose a $25 civil fine and confiscate all marijuana and paraphernalia in sight if they find a violator. If the violator is 18 years old or younger, a notice will be sent to the parent or guardian.

Finally, it is important to remember that marijuana is still illegal under federal law.

Drug Paraphernalia

Broadly, drug paraphernalia includes anything that is used to grow, harvest, process, measure, package, or use drugs. A more detailed definition can be found at DC Code §48–1101(3).

Possession of drug paraphernalia in DC is punishable upon conviction by a fine of up to $250, 30 days of jail time, or both.

Sale or delivery of drug paraphernalia in DC is punishable upon the first conviction by a fine of up to $1,000, 180 days of jail time, or both. A second or subsequent conviction carries a fine of up to $12,500, 2 years of jail time, or both. There is also a special offense involving a person 18 years or older selling or delivering drug paraphernalia to a minor at least 3 years their junior. That particular offense is punishable upon conviction by a fine of up to $25,000, up to 8 years of jail time, or both. 

Call Us For a Free Consultation

If you or a friend or loved one is having trouble with the law and need help about drug charges in DC, please give us a call. Nabeel Kibria is always standing by to answer any questions or concerns you may have.