Possessing drugs whit the intent to distribute them is a criminal offense that is punishable by both fines and imprisonment. In this blog, we explain the differences between possession, intent to distribute, and possession with the intent to distribute.
What Is Possession?
Possession of a controlled substance is illegal at both the state and federal level. Possession is not just the act of holding illegal drugs in your hands, pockets, bag, or purse, but also can include drugs that are within your control. You can be deemed “in possession” of drugs if they are found in your home or personal vehicle.
In order for a person to be charged with possession, the person must be aware that the drugs are present. This means that they had to have either knowingly obtained or received the controlled substance, or knew where the drugs were but failed to remove them. Some jurisdictions take the knowledge requirement even further and will issue possession charges if the person “should have known” the drugs were in their possession, or that the substance in their possession is in fact drugs. This broad standard makes it easier for the prosecution to prove the element of possession.
What Is Intent to Distribute?
In order to charge you with intent to distribute, prosecutors must prove what you planned to do with the drugs. If you are holding an amount of money deemed to be too large for personal use, you can be accused of intent to distribute or sell drugs. The presence of drug paraphernalia, packaging materials, and communications from customers can also be used to establish charges for intent to distribute.
What Is Possession with Intent to Distribute?
In order charge a person with possession with the intent to distribute, both the possession of the drugs and intent to sell or distribute has to have happened at the same time. If you have the goal of selling a large quantity of drugs, but you don’t yet have access to them, you can’t be charged based on your sole intent to distribute. Similarly, if you have a small amount of drugs for personal use in your possession, you can only be charged with the crime of possession.
Under federal law, "possession with the intent to distribute" needs each of the above elements to justify the charge. Most states operate under this definition as well. Fines and prison sentences for these crimes vary depending on the drugs in questions and the accused’s criminal history.