The Virginia Code criminalizes the possession of certain illicit drugs and other controlled substances.
The penalties for these crimes, however, can vary widely based on whether or not the police find evidence of an intent to distribute.
This fact is especially true for repeat offenders, who will often face harsher sentences for each subsequent offense.
In this article, we’ll quickly explain the basics of how the Virginia Code treats repeat offenders of certain drug crimes.
Simple Possession in Virginia
As specifically noted in the Virginia Code:
“It is unlawful for any person to knowingly or intentionally possess a controlled substance unless the substance was obtained directly from, or pursuant to, a valid prescription or order of a practitioner while acting in the course of his professional practice, or except as otherwise authorized by the Drug Control Act.”Virginia Code § 18.2-250
In this fashion, “simple possession” generally refers to the crime of possessing a controlled substance without the intention to distribute it.
For most cases, Virginia courts will penalize simple possession based on the type of drug you were arrested with, rather than the amount.
However, courts will often accept proof of a large quantity of drugs as evidence for distribution charges.
For this reason, individuals who are caught with excessive quantities of drugs often end up with multiple charges for both possession and distribution.
Penalties for Drug Possession by Schedule Class
Normally, the maximum penalties for simple possession do not increase on subsequent convictions.
This is because the Virginia Code simply states an associated misdemeanor (or felony) class for each “Schedule” of controlled substance.
However, the court may take your criminal history into account when determining your sentence.
For this reason, repeat drug offenders will often face harsher penalties upon subsequent convictions, even if they are charged under the exact same statute.
The only exception to this rule pertains to marijuana, as described below.
The Virginia Code divides the maximum penalties for drug offenses into several different criminal classes based on the type of drug found in your possession.
- Possession of either a Schedule 1 or a Schedule 2 substance is a Class 5 felony. The maximum penalty for either one is a fine of up to $2,500 and a prison sentence of ten years.
- The possession of a Schedule 3 drug is a Class 1 misdemeanor. It has a maximum penalty of a $2,500 fine and a jail sentence of one year.
- The possession a Schedule 4 drug is a Class 2 misdemeanor. The maximum penalty for this crime is a fine of $1,000 and a jail term of six months.
- The possession of a Schedule 5 drug is a Class 3 misdemeanor. Its maximum penalty is a fine of up to $500.
- The possession of a Schedule 6 drug is a Class 4 misdemeanor. Its maximum penalty is a fine of up to $250.
In addition, a conviction for any of the crimes above will result in an automatic license suspension of at least six months.
Simple Possession of Marijuana
As noted above, the penalties for marijuana possession can change depending on whether or not it’s your first conviction:
- For a first offense, the court will treat marijuana possession as a “Class U” (undefined) misdemeanor. The maximum penalty for this crime is a $500 fine and/or up to 30 days in jail. If you were driving at the time you received the summons for the possession charge, the DMV will also suspend your license for six months.
- After the first conviction, the court will treat marijuana possession as a Class 1 misdemeanor. The maximum penalties for this offense include a $2,500 fine and up to one year in jail. The DMV will also automatically suspend your license for six months.
Finally, note that Virginia recently changed its laws to allow legal possession of medically prescribed marijuana and CBD oil in certain select cases.
Manufacturing and Distributing Controlled Substances
Virginia criminalizes a broad range of acts under several possession with intent to distribute laws.
However, most defendants will end up facing the penalties described below.
Exceptions include individuals leading large-scale distributing operations and individuals caught distributing drugs to minors, who face much harsher penalties.
- The first distribution conviction entails a fine of up to $500,000 and a prison sentence of between 5 and 40 years. In some cases involving large amounts of opiates, cocaine derivatives, or amphetamines, the maximum fine will go up to $1,000,000. In addition, the maximum prison term will become life in prison.
- For a second distribution conviction, the maximum penalty is life in prison.
- Following the third distribution conviction, the minimum prison sentence is ten years. The maximum penalty remains a life term.
Each of these crimes is a felony, which means you will permanently lose many of your rights if convicted.
In particular, you will lose your right to own a firearm, vote, serve on a jury, become a Notary, and run for public office.
However, you may be able to petition the governor’s office to restore these rights after several years.
Manufacturing of Methamphetamine
The same law also specifically criminalizes the production of methamphetamine.
The following penalties apply to the production of less than 200 grams of methamphetamine:
- The first offense is a felony with a maximum penalty of $500,000 and a prison sentence of between 10 and 40 years.
- After the second conviction, the fine and minimum prison term remain the same. However, the maximum penalty becomes life in prison.
Additionally, you may have to pay a fee to the Virginia Methamphetamine Cleanup Fund.
Distribution of Marijuana
As with simple possession, the laws regarding the distribution of marijuana are slightly different.
The penalties for your first two convictions are as follows:
- Distributing less than one-half ounce of marijuana is a Class 1 misdemeanor. Its maximum penalty is a $2,500 fine and up to one year in jail.
- Distributing more than one-half ounce of marijuana is a Class 5 felony. Its maximum penalty is a fine of $2,500 and between one and five years in prison.
- Distributing more than five pounds of marijuana is a felony punishable by imprisonment for five to 30 years.
- In addition to the penalties described above, the court may charge you with growing marijuana with the intent to distribute it. The maximum penalty for this felony is a fine of $10,000 and prison sentence of five to thirty years.
However, Virginia has a “three strike policy” in regards to marijuana distribution and production.
Upon the third conviction for any of the crimes described above, the state may sentence you to a prison term of five years to life.
Many individuals who are charged with possession of a controlled substance also struggle with substance abuse.
The Virginia court system provides an alternate option to traditional sentencing for individuals who meet certain criteria.
Drug treatment courts have become increasingly prevalent throughout the state.
These specialty courts allow decreased sentences for defendants willing to participate in and stick with rehabilitation programs.
In Virginia, drug distribution charges tend to mount up quickly. Currently, there are over 2,000 prisoners serving life sentences in Virginia.
While repeated simple possession charges generally carry the same penalties, the actual sentence placed against you will vary depending on your previous convictions.
Distribution and manufacturing charges, however, carry increasing penalties for every charge.
To avoid becoming another drug-related statistic, contact an experienced criminal lawyer as soon as you are arrested for any drug-related crime.
While it won’t necessarily result in the state dropping your charges, a good legal defense will reduce your chance of receiving the maximum possible sentence.