Last updated on October 24th, 2018
In Virginia, the law criminalizes possessing and distributing certain illicit drugs and other controlled substances. However, the sentences for these crimes can vary based on how many times you’ve been convicted. Breaking Virginia’s drug laws repeatedly will result in mounting consequences, including large fines and longer prison sentences.
In this article, we’ll go over exactly how Virginia’s repeat drug offender statutes work. For simple possession, the penalties are always the same. However, the charge of distributing controlled substances entails harsher penalties for repeat offenders.
“Simple possession” refers to the crime of possessing a controlled substance without the intention to distribute it. When it comes to simple possession, the quantity of drugs in your possession doesn’t matter as much as the type.
Generally speaking, Virginia penalizes possession based on the type of drug you were arrested with.
Penalties by Schedule Class
Normally, the maximum penalties for simple possession do not increase on subsequent convictions. However, the court may take your criminal history into account when determining your sentence (how long you actually serve). The only exception to this rule pertains to marijuana, as described in the next section.
In Virginia, the maximum penalties for drug offenses are divided into several different misdemeanor classes, and go as follows:
- 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 $2,500 and a prison sentence of ten years.
- However, the state may instead choose to charge certain Class 5 felonies as Class 1 misdemeanors, especially if it’s your first offense. In these cases, the maximum penalty is a fine of $2,500 and up to one year in jail.
- 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. LSD, ketamine, and other high-risk sedatives are listed as schedule 3 drugs.
- The possession a Schedule 4 drug is a Class 2 misdemeanor. Its maximum penalties are a fine of $1,000 and a jail term of six months. Higher-risk medications and narcotics are included in the list of schedule 4 drugs.
- The possession of a Schedule 5 drug is a Class 3 misdemeanor. Its maximum penalty is a fine of up to $500. Schedule 5 drugs include many prescription medications such as painkillers.
- The possession of a Schedule 6 drug is a Class 4 misdemeanor. Its maximum penalty is a fine of up to $250. Schedule 6 drugs are prescription medications such as antidepressants and ADHD drugs.
In addition, a conviction for any of the crimes above will result in an automatic 6-month license suspension.
Simple Possession of Marijuana
Virginia’s penalties for marijuana possession 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 fine is a $500 fine, and, rarely, up to 30 days in jail. In addition, the judge may choose to have you perform community service instead of having your license suspended.
- After the first conviction, the court treats marijuana possession as a Class 1 misdemeanor. Its maximum penalties include a $2,500 fine, and up to one year in jail. The Virginia DMV will also automatically suspend your license for six months.
Marijuana is a “hot button” issue across the country right now. Like many states, Virginia’s marijuana laws are currently in a state of flux. Unlike its neighbor, Washington D.C., possession of marijuana is still generally a crime in Virginia, regardless of where the drug was acquired.
This is especially important because bringing drugs like marijuana into Virginia counts as trafficking. The penalties for drug trafficking are especially severe. However, 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 its 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 five to 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, 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.